For both Greeks and visitors of their country, a visit to a Greek island is closely linked to dining on fresh fish and drinking ouzo. Especially when visiting an island whose fish market holds a central location and there are so many fishing boats returning in its port at dawn, with their nets loaded with the catch of the day. In Aegina, the much-loved island of Saronikos Gulf, a destination so close to Athens and with so many attractions and hidden beauties, dining on fish is a must. And for the ideal location in order to enjoy fresh fish and tasty seafood, accompanied by ouzo or wine, you won’t even have to go any further than the island’s capital, Aegina town. With its tidy and lively fish market as your start line and within its vicinity, these are the best places to rise a toast and taste the sea in every bite.
- The traditional coffee houses – kafeneio – “Galaris” and “Miras” on the coastal road
It’s a very popular Greek habit to enjoy some ouzo and meze ( small assorted dishes ) as an appetizer before lunchtime, especially in the summertime. But even if it’s just to enjoy a cup of coffee, is enough of a reason to visit these two pretty – almost twin – coffee houses, that stand one next to the other and are in business nonstop for almost 60 years. Just a stone throw from the local fish market and opposite the stallholders that sell fresh fruit right on the pier, under the marble, engraved balcony of the historic building that used to house the Town Hall, you will mingle with locals and tourists, cool young ones and older men who seem always ready to narrate stories from the past.
The scarlet red coffee house of Anastasia Galari and the bright green of Costas Miras, without any sign of rival between them, but with an intense feeling of nostalgia chic, unsophisticated but well-attended, freshly painted but with the signs of their past evident all around, share the same history and clientele. During warmer days, it’s preferable to get one of the outside tables and gaze at Dimokratias Avenue, with passersby strolling along and fishing boats, yachts and catamarans filling the bay, while colder days are best spent inside the cosy spaces, surrounded by colourful walls full of stories told in the shape of black and white photos, old posters and publications about these two cafes. Your coffee here will be best accompanied by a homemade fruit preserve – a traditional Greek sweet – and ouzo is served with a simple meze, but the true essence of these places is found in history and simplicity.
- “O Skotadis” fish restaurant
If a glass of ouzo and some meze seemed like a good start for you, then the best way to continue with top quality fish-eating is the classic choice of “Skotadis” fish tavern. It’s story is pretty much the same as that of the previously mentioned coffee houses, as it also started as a traditional kafeneio in the post war period. The simplicity of the old coffee house that started its business in 1945 has evolved but it has also been retained.
And so has the name “Skotadis”, which is actually a nick name given by locals to the founder Ioannis Alifantis what used to open the kafeneio before dawn, in the dark ( skotadi=before dawn in Greek ), in order to prepare a heartwarming fish soup and the first cup of coffee for Aegina’s fishermen who would return from the sea at that hour. The business still run by the same family today, has evolved into a traditional ouzo tavern and even further to a promising fish tavern with serious gastronomic prospects, that in seafood dishes of such tastiness, that even top-quality restaurants would envy.
Yes, I’m talking about such delicious flavours. All you have to do is try the excellently cooked octopus which is served with thinly cut sweet, red peppers and olive oil, the delicious smoked split pea paste, the velvet garlic dip that compliments the lightly fried haddock or even the pan fried ray, if you’d like to try something less ordinary. Salads full of freshness and cheese balls coated with Aegenetean pistachio crumbs will accompany your meal and underline the attention paid to locality of raw materials. And their emblematic dish, the seafood orzo, totally justifies its reputation as one of the best dishes one can taste in Aegina. The lovely view towards the bay with the colourful fishing boats is a bonus and so is their carefully selected list of wines and spirits. So go ahead and rise a glass for grandpa “Skotadis” for the inheritance he left on the island.
- The taverns of the fish market “Agora’ and “To Steki”
Original and cult vibe for the humble taverns that share the pedestrian alley right behind Aegina’s fish market and have a steady clientele of locals who know the right destination for the freshest fish of the day’s catch. Small deep-fried fish or larger grilled ones, fresh or boiled vegetables, various pates and salads to assort your dish, rich seafood spaghetti, fresh shrimps and squids, fried or deliciously stuffed, the variety of seafood dishes is incomparable here and that’s why both taverns remain busy all day long. Take advantage of the proximity of the fish market, choose anything that seems fresh and appealing to you and the taverns’ owners will make sure they cook it just as you ask them to.
You will enjoy a delightful meal in reasonable prices, in a cheerful atmosphere, among the vivid conversations of habitués that seem to become one big company. House wine, cold beer and cats all around, claiming their share of your fish, complete the image of a truly authentic experience that you really have to try.