When you travel you have many experiences, opening up and challenging your senses. Some of these are well-known but are experienced for the first time. But I think the best is when you discover a little hidden treasure that opens up a window into another world. Just such an experience awaits you in one of the quaint laneways of old Thessaloniki town – the Fanos tis Polis restaurant.
My partner and I came across the restaurant by accident, on our way to the city’s impressive Jewish Museum. From the outside the restaurant setting echoes the street cafes of Paris, maybe our own Collins Street – but certainly old Smyrna. Enter the cool and shaded art deco building and you are surrounded by reminders of the past – chandeliers, samovars, beautiful French crockery and more – added to by the original paintings of the proprietor’s nephew who studied in Paris.
The proprietor, cook and waiter has a heritage stretching back to the Asia Minor catastrophe, who has brought all the richness of this heritage to bear in her kitchen. This can surely be one of the few benefits of this forced and terrible migration – it has expanded Greece’s cultural experience and given it to the world. The restaurant is located not far from the city waterfront, where Eftychia’s forbearers would have arrived 100 years ago, carrying with them all they could, to begin a new life in Greece.
She tells us her family story, how her grandfather had received his university education in Constantinople in the years before the First World War. The city of her heritage was a cosmopolitan one, usually referred to as Levantine, encompassing the culture of the many Europeans who had made the city their home for decades and more, along with that of the Aegean and Asia Minor coast. When her family arrived in Greece they brought their love of this culture to their new home, including their beautiful Levantine cooking. No souvlakia, octopus or moussaka here.
The menu is rich and varied – from entrees, to pies and breakfasts, all with distinctive influences from the past. In her choice of menu I see a reflection of the journey of migration itself, from the Asia Minor coast, across the intervening Island’s and finally to the mainland.
We loved her range of omelettes – from Smyrna, Andros and Mytilene – all fantastic. The latter was called Sfougato, a baked combination of eggs, graviera cheese from Mytilene, feta cheese, thinly sliced zucchini, dill, parsley, fresh spring onion and spearmint. That from Andros was a Froutalia (or frittata), a traditional omelette combining eggs, cream and graviera cheese, a little sliced potato and loukankiko sausage.
Two of her recipes we loved are from Smyrna. One is called Kagianas Politicos, scrambled eggs with feta cheese, tomato and sweet peppers. The other is a special pie from Smyrna called Giouzlemes. A fried pie, it was stuffed with feta cheese, salty cream cheese, graviera cheese and topped with honey and white and black sesame seeds.
One of her delightful dessert is of course French Toast, just the thing as you might have enjoyed the view from the many Smyrna waterfront cafes. Ask to try her homemade wild apricot jam – to die for! A perfect accompaniment to her excellent coffee, served in beautifully exquisite fine china tea cups, decorated with gold leaf.
And don’t miss a refreshing glass of her home-made lemonade – with cinnamon and cardamom – so refreshing on a hot summer day – or you might try a nice glass of water with masticha from Chios to end your meal.
We so enjoyed the food and service that we returned each morning of our short stay in Thessaloniki – we just had to try more of Eftychia’s creations. Vicki summed it up by remarking that you can really taste the heart and soul in her food. And all inexpensive given the excellent quality of the offerings and the service. Fanos tis Polis is indeed as it says on its business card – “a piece of bliss”.
The cafe is award winning, and deservedly so. Her cafe has won awards for its cooking and rated one of the best restaurants in Greece. Her dishes have won awards at the city’s food and film festivals. Only her location in this heritage building in its laneway has preserved her from being overwhelmed!
We look forward to the day that Eftychia’s dream of writing a cookbook, capturing her culinary creations in print, is finally a reality. And what a great gift this will be for all interested in ensuring the survival of this unique cultural contribution, especially in this centenary year of the Asia Minor catastrophe. Her book – like her restaurant – will keep some of that lost world alive to be treasured by us all into the future.
And what better location for such a restaurant than Thessaloniki’s historic western edge, with its quaint lanes and overhang blinds, trees and fountains, old buildings evoking the past, survivors of the Great Fire of 1917, others additions in the 1920’s and 30’s. Sipping your coffee from its antique cups takes you away from the cares of today to another world of enjoyment and indulgence.
So when you are next in Thessaloniki make your way to the western part of the old town, to number 8 Agiou Mina, and meet the lovely welcoming Eftychia and enjoy the culinary experience which is Fanos tis Polis. You won’t be disappointed.
Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance author and published author. Secretary of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, Jim is the author of Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed and Grecian Adventure as well as a contributor to Mates & Allies, a commemorative publication of the Australian Embassy in Athens. He recently visited Thessaloniki and Fanos tis Polis with his partner Vicki Kyritsis. He thanks Eftychia for sharing the story of her lovely Fanos. You can call to make a booking on (Greece) 23430 91500. Jim can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.