Koulouri–A ‘seedy’ snack

When Jules’ Owner-Chef Anita Baglaneas set off for Athens to visit family and friends we were lucky to tag along and sample Anita’s favorite on-the-go treat, the crisp and generously seeded bread rings known as koulouri.

Athens street treats

Anita’s favorites were the multi-grain/multi-seeded variety, bottom right

Athens street treats bread

Sesame-encrusted koulouri stand ready for their closeups

Athens street treats

A koulourtzides in central Athens sells his wares

Koulourtzides, the street vendors who set up shop around and about central Athens, run a brisk business, especially over the course of the morning-pedestrian rush hour. Because koulouri are baked nightly and served fresh daily, by mid- to late-afternoon they can be hard to find.

A street-treat throughout the eastern Mediterranean, koulouri are known as simit in Turkey, and it’s under this name that you will find the classic sesame-encrusted variety in Metro-West Boston.

A couple of quick phone calls confirmed that both Sevan Bakery and Massis Bakery and Specialty Food Store on Mount Auburn Street in Watertown offer simit (a.k.a. koulouri) that is baked on-site daily and priced less than a dollar each. And a tantalizing menu item at Sofra Bakery and Cafe on Belmont Street in Cambridge is a “simit” sesame scone.

Bake your own?

While Anita cautions that baking koulouri at home can pose challenges for those without special ovens or proof pans, the adventurous among us will find that online recipes aimed at the amateur abound. A recipe that also offers some historical background is Diane Kochilas’ Sesame Bread Ring recipe, which you’ll find at  Zester Daily.

Greek street food–A longstanding tradition

Fresh chestnuts ready for roasting, Athens, Greece

Bartering and selling goods in the great outdoors has been going on since prehistoric times, and according to Greek Street Food Vending: An Old Habit Turned New, street food in Greece dates back to the first urban communities of the sixth-century BC.

In Athens today, street foods cooked on the spot and served warm include chestnuts and corn.

Fresh-roasted corn, Athens, Greece

Street vendor in Athens, Greece prepares hot corn and chestnuts

A street vendor roasts chestnuts and corn not far from Athens’ Parliament

“Gyro” derives from the same root word as “gyrate” (as in gyrating grill)

Another street food that was popular in ancient times and remains so today is the gyro (pronounced “YEE-row” in Athens). As you no doubt know, spiced ground meat–typically lamb, beef, or pork–is shaped into a tall cylindrical loaf, skewered on an upright spit, slowly turned near a broiler, and then sliced and served on a round of soft pita bread. In Athens, refreshing tzatziki garnishes the sandwich, along with chopped tomato and onion.

Athens Gyros

The scent of slowly revolving gyros wafting out street-facing windows just about made us swoon

Mmm-mmm-mmm! Had we not already filled up on koulouri and chestnuts, we would have popped in here for a gyro sandwich to go.

Photo credits: Liz Muir