Thessaloniki is well-known for its rich history and its delicious food and wine. The first thing that comes to mind for many when discussing food and Thessaloniki is bougatsa. The warm pastry, filled with cream, dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon, is typically eaten for breakfast and as an anytime snack, usually picked up at one of the many pastry shops that specialize in this local favorite.
Another favorite for breakfast or snacks early in the day is the ubiquitous koulouri, sesame seed-covered bread rings, available from street vendors. The texture can vary depending on the thickness of the bread ring, some are soft and chewy while others can be crisp, and the toasty sesame seeds add great flavor.
Thessaloniki is also known for its traditional pies. The dough, influenced by traditional recipes brought to the city by refugees from Asia Minor, is a great base for any type of filling including the classic spinach and cheese for spanakopita and many variations.
For wine enthusiasts, Thessaloniki is a must-visit destination with three wineries open to the public offering award-winning wines, a Wine Museum exhibiting one of the largest corkscrew collections in the world, an important annual wine-testing festival, an international Wine and Spirits Competition, wine bars, wine-tasting shows, as well as an urban vineyard in the center of the city. Thessaloniki is also a great starting point for touring the exceptional Wine Roads throughout Northern Greece, among the area’s impressive natural landscape and rich cultural treasures.
Thessaloniki is the first city in Greece with an urban vineyard, located at Agiou Dimitriou Street, opposite to Kaftatzoglio Stadium. The Greek varieties cultivated on the site are xinomavro, agioritiko, malagouzia, and rombola. The municipality’s wine is for charitable purposes and many Thessalonians participated during the vineyard’s first harvest in 2014. The vineyard is also used by the Viticulture Laboratory of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Department of Agriculture.
Kechris Winery & Distillery is a modern family business that specializes in high-quality retsina, keeping up a century-long tradition in the production of wines and traditional liqueurs. With an annual production of about 1,200,000 bottles exported in 24 countries all over the world, Kechris also offers tours by appointment. More information is available online: https://www.kechris.gr/en/.
4 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup fine semolina
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 package phyllo dough, 10 sheets
1/2 cup butter, melted
Ground cinnamon, for topping
Powdered sugar, for topping
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a saucepan, stir together the milk, semolina, and sugar, and cook over medium heat until it thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg and egg yolk together, then add about a cup of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs, until completely incorporated. Add the egg mixture to the pot and whisk until smooth. Add the butter and vanilla and continue whisking to combine.
Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan and begin layering 5 sheets of phyllo, lightly brushing or drizzling with melted butter between each sheet. The phyllo should hang over the edge of the pan. Pour the filling into the phyllo-lined pan, smooth with a spatula so the cream is evenly distributed. Layer the remaining 5 sheets of phyllo on top, buttering between each sheet. Roll the edges of the phyllo sheets together to form the edge around the bougatsa. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter. Score the top, to make it easier to cut the pieces later.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for about 10 minutes before cutting the pieces. Top with ground cinnamon and powdered sugar and serve warm.
Traditional Pies (Paradosiakes Pites) of Thessaloniki
For the dough:
6 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Greek sea salt
2 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 cup flour (for rolling out the pastry sheets)
1cup Greek extra virgin olive oil (for oiling the rolled out pastry sheets)
In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil and vinegar. Add some warm water and knead by hand, add enough so that the dough is soft but not sticky. Knead until smooth. Cover the dough and let it rest for an hour. Separate the dough into two pieces and roll into balls. Using a thin rolling pin, on a well-floured surface, roll out two square phyllo sheets, sprinkling flour frequently. Oil them, fold them in the middle, oil and fold again, until you form a square (for 16 small pies). Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Using the rolling pin, roll out two phyllo sheets which must be a bit larger than the size of the baking tray. The lower sheet must be larger in order to be folded over, so the upper one creates volume for the pie. Oil a 15 by 10-inch baking pan and place the first phyllo sheet. Drizzle with some olive oil and add the preferred filling, recipes below. Place the second sheet of phyllo and crease to create volume. Fold the edges in. Brush the top with olive oil. Sprinkle with some water. Score the top to form pieces of the type and size preferred, i.e. squares or triangles. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 50 minutes or until golden brown.
2 cups feta, crumbled
1 cup anthotyro
3 eggs, beaten
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
The feta should not be the very salty variety, but the kind typically used for pites. In a mixing bowl, stir together the feta and anthotyro, then add the eggs and pepper, and continue stirring to combine all the ingredients thoroughly. Spread the filling onto the phyllo-lined pan, top with phyllo, brush with oil, and bake as above.
Spinach and Feta Filling
1 pound fresh spinach
1/3 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
4-5 spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
1 cup feta, crumbled
3 eggs, beaten
Greek sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Wash the spinach thoroughly and blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain well. Heat the oil over medium high heat in a saucepan and sauté the spring onions, spinach, dill, salt and pepper. Allow the spinach mixture to cool, then add the feta and eggs and stir to combine. Spread the filling in the phyllo-lined pan, top with phyllo, brush with oil, and bake as above.
Leek and Ground Beef Filling
1 pound leeks
1 pound ground beef
1/3 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
Greek sea salt and red pepper flakes to taste
A pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Greek dried oregano to taste
3 eggs, beaten
Use the white parts of the leeks only, wash thoroughly and chop finely. Sauté the ground beef until lightly browned, then add the oil, the leeks, salt, red pepper, nutmeg and oregano, stir to combine. Cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Add the eggs and stir to combine. Spread the filling in the phyllo-lined pan, top with phyllo, brush with oil, and bake as abo