It was during the current, long recession that a gang of young malcontents met, drank and talked politics at Exarcheia Square, the anarchist hub of Athens. Years passed and the youngsters turned into 30-somethings, who saw very little when they looked to the future. Fortunately, within the group there were two chefs, who convinced the others to chip in and start a restaurant. Suspicious of bosses and hierarchies, they decided to put their ideology into practice; every partner, whether a chef or waiter, bartender or dishwasher, was to be paid at the same hourly rate. The only way to earn more money would be to put in more hours.
The result is Theio Tragi (‘Holy Goat’), a restaurant-bar that opened in October 2013 in Athens’ up-and-coming Petralona district. The group’s radical philosophy extends to pricing, for the comrades serve haute cuisine not for the few but for the many. The eight-course menu dégustation costs a reasonable €65 (£55) for two, while €8 (£6.80) gets you a signature cocktail like Bienvenido a Oaxaca, a pink tequila-based thirst-quencher in a glass rimmed with smoked salt and served with a cherry tomato.
Meet the man on a mission to alert the world to the wonders of Grevena’s fungi
Yorgos Constantinides is an extraordinary man. A primary school teacher in Grevena — a town of 15,000 people, two hours south west of Thessaloniki — he’s also chairman of the Greek Mushroom Society and the author of six books. What’s more, he’s a man on a mission.
“Can you believe it? Around Grevena we’ve already identified 1,300 mushroom species and I’m still waiting to classify another 2,000 — lack of time! I’ve even discovered a new species, Genea hellenica,” he tells me, checking I’ve capitalised it correctly. “You see, Grevena lies in the Pindus mountains, close to elevations of between 1,640ft and 8,200ft, amid forests of pine, oak, fir and spruce — perfect habitat for wild mushrooms.”
Not only has Yorgos convinced the town’s mayor to declare Grevena the ‘mushroom capital of Greece’, he’s also persuaded his fellow citizens to embrace his vision and help exploit their town’s potential. In the worst case, with the crisis biting, you can always eat your USP.
“Almost everyone now in Grevena offers some kind of mushroom product. We sell them fresh, frozen, dried, pickled and even make a confection out of Cantharellus cibarius that tastes like apricot. You can even buy pasta made of mushroom powder and two mushroom liqueurs.”
In Grevena, you’ll find a mushroom museum, a mushroom photography exhibition, plus woodcuts, ceramics, paintings and T-shirts, all inspired by wild fungi.
“We’ve an annual, three-day mushroom festival in September that features music by three local bands: the Amanitas, Ramaria and my own, Manitarock,” says a beaming Yorgos. “We hold seminars on how to identify wild fungi. We’ve cauldrons boiling in the central square, where visitors can taste the various local mushrooms.”
Any poisonings? “Thousands and thousands of tastings over the years and nobody has been poisoned. Ever.” What about, erm, mushrooms of the magic kind? “Amanita muscaria?” Yorgos sighs. “The exhibition samples always disappear after the first day.”
Published in the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)