Greece and especially Athens and Thessaloniki, offer the best and quickest solution in the form of the koulouri or as it is otherwise known as Simiti or Thessaloniki koulouri.
The traditional sesame-coated ring of bread is the ultimate, nutrition-packed and quick answer to alleviate any hunger pangs. It is one of Greece’s most popular street foods along with cheese (tiropita) and spinach (spanakopita) pies or bugatsa, a breakfast pastry filled custard cream, cheese or meat. The koulouri ranks high in Greek preference for accompaniment to morning coffee. It is cheap ranging from 50-60 cents and is available in every corner of the city center as well as in bakeries. The sight of the morning rush hour with people of all ages holding cups of every variety of frappes, lattes or juice in one hand while munching on fresh, sweet smelling crispy Koulouris is a classical one and very much part of Greek culture.
Koulouris come in every size and cater to all tastes and preferences. There are the small palm sized, hard baked whole grain ones to the larger ones that are made with or without sesame seeds, crunchy or soft, braided, plain or with various savory or sweet fillings. They are traditionally made from wheat flour (although corn and multi grain flour are also used), yeast, water, salt and sugar and baked to golden crispiness. The fillings can range from different types of cheese, tomato and olives, ham and tahini to jams and chocolate, and provide a healthy meal in itself.
The koulouri has a long history. Some historians trace back its origins back to antiquity when kollyra, a type of round bread was served to slaves. Another version dates back the name to the ancient Greek kollikion which denoted a type of round bread made with coarsely ground wheat. During the Byzantine Empire, street vendors were selling various types of street food that included this bread ring to the multitude of workers, merchants, immigrants, foreign soldiers and pilgrims. Later on, in the mid 16th century, a historian noted that there were over 70 bakeries in Constantinople selling this popular staple commonly referred to as simit, derived from the Arabic word for bread.
When the Greeks from Asia Minor resettled in Greece, they also brought with them their culinary traditions. In Thessaloniki, the koulouri became popular and spread to the rest of the country, hence it being referred to as koulouri Thessalonikis.
For health conscious Greeks and visitors, the nutrition packed koulouri offers an excellent choice. The health benefits of the sesame seeds that cover them are numerous. The vitamins (B1, B2 and B5), minerals and natural oils in the seeds fulfill part of our daily requirements. The magnesium present helps lower our blood sugar levels, improve our lung health and aids in combating disease. Zinc helps promotes healthy skin, hair and muscle while calcium boosts bone health. The fiber contributes to the good working condition of the digestive system and the phytoserols aid in reducing bad cholesterol. With all of this working in our favor, who can refuse this tasty treat?
There are some koulouri sellers which Athenians favor over others. The Koulouri of Psirri at 23 Karaiskaki Street has long been a favorite to past presidents, celebrities and all night party goers since the 1990’s. This particular venue has a fleet of delivery motorcycles that provide shops and street vendors with their ware. Syntagma square opposite the metro station and the stand on Ermou Street, as well as the stand near Klafthmonos square off Stadiou Street are other popular choices, each offering a variety for all tastes. Bakeries in all neighborhoods include different types of koulouri for their customers. Koulourades is another famous Koulouri place, where you can find koulouri in many different tastes and shapes, check their website www.koulourades.gr for their new recipes they have branches all over Athens and Piraeus.
So why not explore the riches the city has to offer and stop by a stand and treat yourself to this quintessential snack on the go. Enjoy!