BBC’s celebrity chef Rick Stein recently featured Thessaloniki on Rick Stein’s Long Weekends. The show follows the English chef – one of the pioneers of the culinary travel show – on weekend getaways to cities chosen for their vibrant culinary scene and interesting food.

We’ve watched the episode and are here to report on Rick’s epicurean choices in the city he likens to Istanbul as an “East meets West” destination, where the core of Greek cuisine meets Sephardic cooking, Ottoman and Middle eastern dishes as well as Balkan influences in what Rick stein calls a “wonderful, memorable mixture of great cooking”.

Seven Local Delicacies Rick Stein Enjoyed in Thessaloniki

The popular chef stayed in Electra Palace hotel and enjoyed his breakfast at Orizontes restaurant, which we’ve already featured as the best roof garden in the city. He browsed the traditional markets, walked the streets and took in the Thessaloniki vibe combined with a few cups of strong Greek coffee. He even went for a swim in Epanomi and had the compulsory seaside taverna experience, complete with chargrilled fish and octopus.

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A greengrocer’s stalls at the traditional market of the city center image by George Simitopoulos

Here are Rick’s Thessaloniki food choices. Use them as a guide to the flavors of the city or seek out the establishments that serve them. Either way, bon appetit!

Trigono Panoramatos Pastry for Elevenses

His first culinary stop, however, is Elenidis bakery, a family business serving the unique to Thessaloniki pastry called “trigono panoramatos” – a crunchy, syrupy filo pastry triangle with a thick custard filling, invented here in the ‘60s. The camera goes into the workshop to show how this dessert is made to end up in the mouth of Rick Stein, who’s likening the process to Eddie Cochran’s Three Steps to Heaven.

BBC rick stein's long weekends thessaloniki greece culinary trips food cooking mediterranean diet bougatsa specialties gourmet
A trigono pastry (source: Elenidis Cafe via Facebook)

Kozani Chicken with Prunes, Saffron and Paprika

The first recipe the chef chooses to share with his viewers is Kozani Chicken. Although it’s not a very widely known dish, the prominent use of Greek saffron and its combination of savory and sweet brings out the personality of Thessaloniki: Greek with a touch of the Middle East.

The stew makes good use of Kozani saffron – or krokos kozanis, as it’s known to Greeks. Cultivated exclusively in a town in the nearby region of Kozani, Greek saffron is one of the most high quality varieties of saffron worldwide, saffron itself being the most expensive and coveted spice for centuries now. The recipe also includes prunes, paprika and chicken and is served over rice. You can find the instructions on the BBC website.

Stuffed Onion Meze with the Deputy Mayor

While dining at To Elliniko in the Ladadika neighborhood, Rick Stein is joined by the Deputy Mayor for Tourism, Spiros Pengas. Of course, their conversation is more about food than politics or local administration – and rightly so.

Shooting at To Ellinikon (source: Το Ελληνικό via Facebook)
Shooting at To Ellinikon (source: Το Ελληνικό via Facebook)

The dish itself is surprisingly simple but scrumptious, comprised of minced meat stuffing in an onion shell. Slightly spicy but not hot at all, it makes use of common local ingredients to create a tasty meze for ouzo or wine.

“Better than Moussaka” Stewed Veal and Eggplant in a Tomato Sauce

The program’s next stop is the seaside house of Vefa Alexiadou, the mom of Greek cooking. The Greek celebrity chef, cookbook author and TV personality spent 17 whole years on national television, sharing recipes, culinary secrets and stories with the public. She’s delighted to meet Rick, and has prepared Moschari me Melitzanes to serve him.

This recipe, which can also be made with lamb, combines Mediterranean veggies – pepper, eggplants, onions, tomato – with local meat. Rick says he served this “lovely, honest stew” at a dinner party recently, and his friends said it’s even better than moussaka!

Fisherman’s Choice Mussel Pilaf

Perhaps the most fascinating (even to us Thessalonians!) moment of the show is when Rick takes us on a mussel fishing trip in the Axios delta – the estuary of the Axios river, only half an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki.

thessaloniki food mussels halastra chalastra rick stein thessaloniki mydopilafo pilaf family business
The Doukas Taverna Family from the BBC program (source: Ψαροταβέρνα Δούκας via Facebook)

This nature reserve produces mussels, rice and salt. Great news for local cuisine, which has combined them with herbs and spices to create mussel pilaf. This very Thessalonian dish is comprised of long-grain rice cooked in mussel broth flavored with spring onions, onions, white wine and saffron and topped with lots of dill, parsley and of course mussels. Rick has it at Doukas Taverna in the village of Chalastra, a choice popular with local fishermen – always a sign of a great seafood restaurant.

Bougatsa me Kima – Minced Meat Bougatsa

Another Thessaloniki staple is bougatsa, a crunchy, multi-layered type of pastry typically filled with cream, cheese or minced meat. Rick visits Bantzis’ bougatsa workshop, who still makes bougatsa the traditional way taught by his father. He goes for a meat bougatsa that’s light but deliciously savory: the snack of choice to avoid a hangover after a long night of clubbing.

greek fish and chips bacalao bakaliaros bakaliarakia salted cod and fries rick stein thessaloniki food cuisine local long weekends bbc
Greek Style Fish and Chips near the Thessaloniki Port (image: Τα Μπακαλιαράκια του Αρίστου – Mpakaliarakia tou Aristou via Facebook)

Greek Style Fish and Chips

Although it certainly is fish and yes, it is fries, this local specialty puts a Thessaloniki spin on the British favorite. Bakaliarakia tou Aristou, a restaurant near the Thessaloniki port which serves nothing but Greek style fish and chips, was established in 1940. Rick Stein wonders if that had anything to do with British soldiers stationed in the area looking for a taste of home.

Either way, this dish is essentially battered salted cod. It’s served with what the Brits call chips but Americans hand-cut fries as well as skordalia, a creamy dip made of garlic, breadcrumbs and olive oil. If you’re planning to visit, be aware that it can get very crowded around lunchtime. Rick even tweeted about this place:

The hour-long episode shot in the Thessaloniki and the surrounding area in July 2016 was broadcasted on BBC2 in late January and is still available on the BBC iPlayer for web audiences located in the UK.

Catch it to watch Rick’s experience of Thessaloniki, what he calls a friendly city with fabulous food – a “gastronomic delight”!



Main image: “Rick Stein” (CC-BY-SA 2.0) by Nikk Duncan