Ok, so we are well overdue a blog post! I know that it’s been a minute (or three) since my last post, but I’m going to be trying my very hardest to post more regularly from now on. You can always find me lurking around on Twitter and Instagram, so do come over and say hi. I’m increasingly more active on Instagram Stories, and really enjoying building more connections with my followers. They are a lovely bunch!
I recently spent a few days in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city. This was really just a little break for me, as Mr Green V was there for work, so I thought I’d join him and soak up some serious vitamin D.
As a vegetarian, I loved Greek food, but I’ve honestly always been a little disappointed when I’ve been to Greek restaurants as a vegan, particularly in the UK… too many modifications to set meals that cater to English palates, and I just never felt there was enough flavour or authenticity. I’m sure there are some great places though, but I’m just sharing my opinion and experience.
Like any good travelling vegan, I’ve done my fair bit of research on most European cuisines, and I knew that a lot of traditional Greek dishes (mezze and whatnot) are in fact plant-based. Plus, in the Greek Orthodox church there are large parts of the year when followers ‘fast’. The fasting diet is actually plant-based, apart from the inclusion of honey and seafood (note, not fish). This also explains the popularity of vegan cheeses in Greece.
Handy tip: You can ask if something is ‘nistisimo’, which means it is fast compliant, then you just need to establish whether it has honey or seafood in it.
Thessaloniki is really vegan-friendly. I was blown away actually. I knew there were a couple of places in the centre, but there were several eateries around that offered vegan options on their menus. Of course, as is the bliss with the Mediterranean diet, a lot of meals are naturally vegan anyway (thank you olive oil), or are at least easy to veganise.
We stayed in a business hotel, which was ok. It wasn’t the type of hotel we would usually stay at, but it served its purpose. The breakfast wasn’t great for vegans (luckily I only ate there on 1 day!), and it was about 15 minutes’ walk from the historical centre.
I would recommend you find a hotel in the centre, so you can step out into the historical heart of the city. As ever, it’s best to contact a hotel and ask them whether they can sort you something special out for breakfast – i.e., dairy-free milk, suitable breads, or something more creative. Let me know if you guys would like a blog post on this?
I spent 3 days in Thessaloniki, and I wish it had been longer. But happily the weather here in Brussels has been mostly above 25 degrees since we got back, so I’ll not complain!
Before I get in to where to eat, if you are going to Greece, or any of the Greek Islands, you must have a traditional Greek coffee! I had my first one when I was about 11 (maybe younger?!) as one of my Mum’s friends is a Greek Cypriot, and I fell in love with the taste. Wow… that caffeine addiction got me young…
Anyway, try it. I have mine with medium sugar (you will be asked how much sugar to have). Make sure you don’t drink the sediment at the bottom of your cup though!
While Mr Green V was at his event, I pounded the pavements of Thessaloniki, camera in tow and searching for beautiful scenery, and beautiful food.
For a quick, easy, filling and cheap breakfast on the go, grab a Greek coffee and one of the plain bagel-type sesame bread rings (koulouri). You’ll see them in street stalls, and in bakeries – just beware that they are sometimes filled with non-vegan food, so make sure you pick the right one!
Thessaloniki is a coastal city, and there’s a lovely promenade along the sea front where you can walk, or take advantage of the cycle path. You’ll also find a lot of cool and hip bars around this area – they get pretty busy, and pretty loud too, but there’s a great atmosphere. Head towards the White Tower and you’ll find them all.
Did you know that Greeks invented the frappe? Now, they aren’t vegan, instead they use some kind of crema mix in the blend, but if you ask for an espresso freddo, it’s essentially just an iced coffee. Again, always be on the safe side, and say no cream, no milk etc. I don’t really care if I come across as a little mad – I don’t want any of that cow juice in my drink!
You must also try the fava dip – it’s similar to hummus, but without the garlic or chickpeas… or tahini. You can get it everywhere too.
Places to eat
The first place I visited was this super cute vegan and vegetarian restaurant. Most of the menu was vegan, with a smattering of veggie dishes. Vegan options were clearly marked (god, I love it when that happens).
On the first night, I dined alone, and what a jolly old time I had. In my veggie days, I was obsessed with tzatziki (mezze food is life), and I’ve tried to make it myself with vegan yogurt, but always found it way too sweet (side note, the new Alpro 0% sugar natural yoghurt works a treat!). So, when I saw gyros that came with tzatziki – how could I refuse?
To start, I had the broccoli balls with BBQ sauce – it was a tough choice to make, but they were delicious, and full of flavour.
I noticed that dill is used a lot, so we’ve been incorporating it into the dishes we cook at home to try and replicate the Greek sensation – it’s working!
On our final night I actually returned here, with Mr Green V. The food really is fantastic; I can’t recommend it enough.
Close to the famous White Tower, there’s a relatively new 100% vegan place that has opened up. If you’re looking for authentic Greek pastries that are vegan, then you need to get yourself down here!
From 8am – 1pm there’s a breakfast buffet, followed by a lunch and dinner buffet for the rest of the day. I got there about 12:30, so just in time to devour some sweet heavenly goodness.
I can’t express how much I adore Greek pastries and cakes, but obviously it had been years since they have touched my lips. As you can imagine, I was SO EXCITED to try out the vegan versions, which tasted just how I remember the traditional ones too. Sweet and savoury options were available, and all washed down with a green juice.
I wanted to come back and try out the dinner service, but just didn’t have time – but I bet it was wonderful.
We ate here for lunch as we live streamed the royal wedding on YouTube (yes, how terribly British), and fell in love with this place. It’s not veggie or vegan, but has lots of clearly marked vegan options – all of which are based on traditional, homemade, Greek food.
We had a bit of a feast, with a few different dishes, just how I like to eat. The staff were lovely, and the owner (I think he was the owner), asked me about my vegan journey and seemed inspired to give up meat – result!
I was very kindly invited to dine out with the team working with Mr Green V on the penultimate night in Thessaloniki, and we went to this absolute gem of a resto. It is a standard taverna, so no focus on veganism at all, however a selection of the mezze were naturally vegan, and they even made me a special drink, without honey, so I could join in the toast at the end of the night.
It’s a co-operative restaurant, and well known in the area and come 9/10pm it really starts to fill up. It’s informal and cosy, and a great option if you are travelling with omnivores.
I like the ethos behind the place, as you can read on their Facebook page:
“Today, with new members in our co-operative venture, we open up to new offshoots, creating an Alternative Tourism Office, Rediviva Eco Trip. Our aim is to provide documentary and narrative attractions for the history, nature and gastronomy of the city of Thessaloniki, its immediate surroundings and, more generally, of Northern Greece and the Balkans, to Greek and foreign tourists and travelers”.
There are lots of stray cats and dogs in Thessaloniki, which can be a little distressing. However, saying that, I noticed plenty of food left out on the side for them, especially the cats, and they seemed pretty street wise. Just something to bear in mind.
It won’t come as a surprise to you, but the Greek people are super friendly and welcoming. This is one of the many things I love about southern Europe and the Mediterranean – people are happy, warm and full of hospitality. They actually want you to have a fantastic experience, rather than being annoyed at your audacity to venture into their cafe or shop (Brussels, I’m looking at you). Ah…
I think it’s important to learn at least a couple of basic words in your host country’s language – I hate it when people dive straight into English without even saying ‘hello’ in the native language. Even if you don’t say it correctly, it’s polite and shows you’ve made an effort and respect that you are in someone else’s country.
Hello: Yasou (yah-SU)
Thank you: Efcharisto (ef-caree-STO)
Please: Parakalo (Par-aka-LOH)
Good morning: Kalimera (ka-lee-ME-ra)
Good afternoon/evening: Kalmispera (Ka-lee-SPER-a)
Good evening:Kalinita (ka-lee-NI-ta)
No: Oxi (oh-kee)
I hope this mini guide was helpful, and that it inspires you to put Thessaloniki on your list of places to visit. As a vegan, you won’t struggle at all for food – plus the day I left there was even a vegan festival, but sadly my flight was early in the morning (boo, hiss, boo).
I really want to explore more of Greece – so do let me know any recommendations you have.
Ciao for now,
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