A favourite morning snack
The best koulouri in Athens
Although you will have heard a lot about the rich recipes of Greek cuisine, you’ll be surprised to learn that the Athenians’ favourite breakfast is the koulouri. It is a small circular bread made with flour and yeast and sprinkled with sesame seeds (in its original version). Today it is additionally prepared with different types of flour, served stuffed as a sandwich, and there are also some sweet variations. Sometimes it’s crunchy, sometimes soft, but it’s always tasty and healthy.
THE ORIGIN OF KOULOURI
Some historians believe the koulouri originated during the Byzantine period. The oldest reference to “koulouri” is found in 1525 in Constantinople. Also, according to a Turkish historian, in 1630 there were about seventy bakeries in the city that produced it. In Greece and also in Turkey (where it is called “simit”), it is a popular dish usually consumed in the morning.
Koulouri became popular in Thessaloniki when the Greek refugees from Asia Minor brought it to the city around 1922. This is the reason it is more commonly called “koulouri Thessalonikis”. In Athens, koulouri first appeared probably in the 1960s, and since then it has become a favourite morning habit of the city’s residents. On every corner of the city, there was a street vendor selling koulouri, and most bakeries baked fresh koulouri every morning. Today, you can buy it in bakeries, from street vendors, and at specialised stores that sell different variations of the classic koulouri.
THE BEST PLACES FOR KOULOURI IN ATHENS
Koulouri Tou Psirri (Κουλούρι Tου Ψυρρή): This is a workshop that has been around since 1960 and has produced the same delicious koulouri all these years. This is also the koulouri that you find at most of the street vendors in Athens. The koulouri here is crunchy and produced in several variations (wheat, wholemeal, cornmeal, etc.). (Georgiou Karaiskaki 23, Psirri)
Rizos Elaia (Ρίζος Ελαία): With a family tradition that started in 1974, the two Rizos bakeries, in addition to excellent quality breads (such as exceptional dinkel bread), also make an excellent crispy koulouri with a strong taste of roasted sesame. (Matrozou 12, Koukaki / Votanikou 12, Votanikos) [photo at top]
Takis Bakery (Αρτοποιότης ο Τάκης): Located near the Acropolis, this bakery is something of an institution for the citizens of Koukaki. With a family tradition of baking since 1961, it is no wonder people are lining up every day to buy bread (almost 30 different types). But it is also the first bakery to popularise koulouri Thessalonikis to Athens. Its koulouri is not very crunchy, and you can find it freshly baked all day long. (Misaraliotou 14, Koukaki)
Kallimarmaro (Καλλιμάρμαρο): It is one of the oldest surviving bakeries in Athens, with two nearby stores, in Pangrati and Mets. Over time, it manages to combine tradition with new techniques and constantly renews itself. Koulouri is one of the bakery’s best products, with an irregular shape but as soft as it should be and excellent quality dough. (Varnava Square 2, Pangrati / Markou Mousourou 28, Mets)
Pnyka (Πνύκα): This is one of the most important bakeries in Athens, with a sixty-year tradition in bread. Dimitris Kotsaris, the bakery’s founder and owner, has been recognised by Harvard University for his bread-making expertise. Apart from the famous sourdough bread, here you can also find excellent classic koulouri and perhaps the best multi-seeded koulouri in town. (Pratinou 13, Pangrati / Petraki 24, Syntagma / Tositsa 26 Exarcheia)
Thes Koulouri (Θες Κουλούρι): Opened in 2018 in Kaisariani, it is run by two brothers who continue their family’s baking tradition. They make four basic types of koulouri, which they bake every morning and serve with quality coffee. They also serve koulouri stuffed with various fresh ingredients and produce some types of sweet koulouri. (Ethinikis Antistaseos 108 & Efroniou 52, Kaisariani / Kifisias 64, Marousi)
Zagoraios (Ζαγοραίος): This is a famous bakery in Chalandri known for its quality breads and crispy breadsticks. But its koulouri is also very authentic and tasty. In addition to the classic version with sesame, they also make koulouri with brioche dough, which is very delicious and original. (Andrea Papandreou 14, Chalandri)
Katsaros (Κατσαρός): Located in Glyfada, Katsaros has a long tradition of creating pastries and bread. Here you may taste the best koulouri in the southern suburbs. The aroma of sesame dominates the flavour of koulouri, which is not overly crispy. (Saki Karagiorga 56, Glyfada)
If you visit Athens and want to really feel like a local, it is worth trying a koulouri either as a light breakfast or as a snack during the day. Although it was once easier to buy it from a street vendor, these vendors are now few, and it is more convenient to buy koulouri from bakeries. In any case, the koulouri is an easy and healthy solution if you are hungry.