Time for meze – the Food Markets of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki Short Stories

Time for Meze . . . 

By The Honest Explorer

The Street Markets
of Thessaloniki

It was about time to speak about FOOOOD! If you, too, are a food lover then I have good news for you. Thessaloniki is the gastronomical capital of Greece and in this post we will find out why, how to enjoy the city’s delicacies to the fullest and where – which parts of the city – you will increase your chances of shopping the real local products.  

There is a famous quote attributed to Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.” But what do we mean by saying food exactly? Is it the cereals; the nuts; the vegetables; the legumes? Would you include the herbs; the fruits; the spices? What about the chilled meat products; fish and cold cuts (charcuterie)?

Nature has given us a plethora of goods and we have been anything but sort of imagination in using these gifts to feed; heal and entertain ourselves with all sorts of flavors. To this end, the Greek fauna and flora are truly privileged: Sun, water and a very fertile land. Greece is located in the temperate zone of the planet with four distinct seasons and mild weather conditions that help the local fauna and flora thrive. If we had to summarize it in one sentence, Greece is the country of the onion and garlic, the country of olive oil and wine.

Now, following this long introduction to Greece, let’s shift our attention to Thessaloniki and let’s find out how this city stands on top of the gastronomical tradition of the country.

Thessaloniki has been a cross road of people, cultures, goods and civilization, even, for over two millennia. The second most important city of the Byzantine and Ottoman empire and the co-capital of modern day Greece. From the 15th century onwards, Thessaloniki was the home of the main three monotheistic religions with Muslim, Christian and Jews co-existing harmoniously. All these cultures and people gave to this city an unparalleled multicultural identity with a unique mix of flavor and aromas. With this pre-existing wealthy of flavor plus the addition of modern fusions of flavor and the increasing presence of international cuisines will make probably have you thinking that it is impossible to fully explore the gastronomy of the city within a day or two.

There is a simple one-word answer to your desire to taste all that there is to taste: Meze! The equivalent of Spanish tapas for former Ottoman Empire’s territory (the Balkans, middle east, Greece and North Africa) will allow to you taste lots of food in a single go.

Although, this isn’t an exact rule or something and the truth is that you will find good meze all around the city, for reason of timesaving your best change is to visit the food market of the city and make the most out of your time.

Sooo…? Are you ready to get a first glimpse into the markets of Thessaloniki? 

1. Athonos Market

Thessaloniki has two main street markets – one across the other – by each side of Aristotle square. Athonos is the fancy market. Not so much in terms of construction but mostly regarding the products sell in it: the fancy spices and herbs, the quality fruits and veggies as well as the delicatessens. Thessaloniki is a heaven for the food-lovers and if you spend a little bit more you will taste exquisite products that reflect the long and the multicultural identity of the city. 

2. Kapani Market

The Kapani Market or previously known as Un-Kapan, meaning “flour market”. You will find Kapani being a tiny bit under-cared by the local authorities. It is a little bit smelly, hygiene standards are not exactly sparkling but the Kapani has a character. If you take a few minutes to walk in the small streets, you will find the local shopkeepers shouting out, advertising their goods. A vivid atmosphere and a great spot to get a meze. What is the meze? Well, in short, the meze is something like the Ottoman version of Spanish tapas and, in my opinion, the fastest, cheapest and most inclusive way to discover the flavors of the gastronomical capital of Greece. 

3. The Modiano Market

The Modiano family were Sephardic Jews who migrated to Thessaloniki from Italy. Saul Modiano, was a famous banker and his youngest son Eli a well-known engineer in the early 20th century. Nowadays, the market is closed. Rumor has it that a French investment group will re-build the market and give this jewel back to the city. For the time being, however, the market is closed. An interesting fact about the building is that it used to be a synagogue. During the Great fire of Thessaloniki in 1917, about half of the 35 synagogues of the city were destroyed. Following the destruction of the synagogue, Eli Modiano redesigned the building to become a central food market. Towards the former Modiano market, you will find one of two remaining synagogues in the city – the “memory synagogue”, Yad Lezikaron. 

4. The Flower Market

Although, this isn’t a food market, the flower market is one of the cutest little squares in Thessaloniki to relax after a long walk, grab a drink or a snack. There used to be seven flower shops in close proximity yet to day only five of them remain. In the center of the square you will find Yahudi Hamam, or otherwise known as the Jewish bath or Pazar Hamam due to the fact that it was located near the central market. Today, some of the best delis in the city are around the triangle among Kapani, Modiano and Flower market. 

5. The Ladadika

Again, although the ladadika isn’t really a market, the upper Ladadika is one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city center with lots and lots of options for food and drinks. 

The word Ladadika, comes from the word Ladi, which means oil in Greek and, of course, when we speak about oil in Greece we refer to the one oil we love – Olive Oil! Olive oil was packages in the neighborhood and it was transferred to the port nearby. Here, you will find a typical 19th century architecture in Thessaloniki. Most of the building were destroyed during WWII but remade in 1990s due to the efforts of Melina Mercury.

Fun fact: During WWI, the Ladadika were the beginning of one of the largest red light districts in Europe! Later on, it housed many restaurants and bars and became more of a family district. 

Today, the Ladadika is, perhaps, the most touristic part of the city. However, you will find out that Thessaloniki, despite attracting an increasing number of visitors over the past few years, it is still a fairly virgin destination in terms of over-tourism. Thus, I encourage you to spend some time in Ladadika and explore its nightlife while you mix with the locals. 

6. Stoa Malakopi & Upper Ladadika

Finally, we need to take a moment to talk about the center of the city’s nightlife. Over the past years, the municipal government has been engaged in a beatification project with environmental considerations. Fans were installed and fountains were created to improve the walker’s experience and provide the square with a vibrant vibe. Here, you will find a number of important historical buildings like the Catholic church, Malakopi gallery, the former Ottoman bank and the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki. By night, the square transforms into the center for the night life of the city with its countless bars and restaurants in close proximity. 

Tip: Make sure to taste cocktails in Thessaloniki. Over the past few year the local bars have risen the quality and variety of cocktails tremendously  making a name for the city all-around Europe. 

 

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