They’re hot, fluffy and crisp, usually drizzled with honey and cinnamon or chopped walnuts, while in a more modern rendition they’re dipped in luscious melty chocolate. You can eat them on the hoof or linger over them at a table in a place that has been around since the early 20th Century, just like your grandparents once did.
The ping pong-ball size mouthfuls are a favourite indulgent dessert among children and adults alike, food for the soul and as sticky as they are satisfying. Loukoumades, the Greek rendition of a donut, are designed to fry you to the moon. The spherical fried dumplings go back a long way, in fact all the way back to the start of the Olympic Games in 776 B.C. when victorious athletes (the first of which was an amateur who was described as a “cook”) were offered these doughy delights with a generous slathering of honey after their feats.
The earliest although somewhat controversial reference to them was made by poet and scholar Kallimachus (310-240 B.C), who wrote about a dessert made of grain and honey, and later by the poet Archestratus in his work Gastronomy, part of which survived in the ‘Deipnosophists of Atheneum’.
In modern times deep fried and sweetened dumplings are enjoyed around the world in various forms (from the American doughnuts beloved to Homer Simpson to Tuzlu Lokma in Turney and Striffoli in Italy, to Churros in Mexico).
If you are a passionate fan of the old fashioned dessert, you could go on a mouthwatering mission in Athens: make a historical Loukouma Map starting from a store that first opened in Hania, Crete in 1912. Ktisakis (on Sokratous St 59) makes loukoumades based on a recipe the owner was taught while he lived in Alexandria, Egypt, and the fan base for the small, perfectly round dough balls with a soft centre has never diminished.
In 1923, Krinos patisserie (on Aiolou 87) opened on Aiolou Street, serving desserts made in a way that that Athenians had never sampled before – among them their loukoumades, which have a hole in their centre and are traditionally served with honey and cinnamon, although in more recent years they are also available with chocolate praline. More creative (and indulgent) clients also accompany then with their delicious ice cream and buy a cream-filled bougatsa pastry for later on.
In the area of Aigaleo, Baltasouras (on Iera Odos 237) has been serving what many consider to be the fluffiest, most flavoursome loukoumades in town, in a patisserie with a charming vintage feel. Made to order, as they are in all of the most respectable shops, they are served with honey and nuts, or chocolate praline sauce.
As much as the establishments of old make for an enjoyable journey down memory lane, the newer generation loukoumades stores are also well worth a visit. Loukoumades (on Aiolou 21) is a hotspot for mainly younger urbanites who stop there between classes, shopping trips or after a boozy night out. Although they’re prepared according to the classic recipe and in traditional style in an open kitchen, there are numerous fillings and toppings beyond the norm – mastic cream, ‘caramel apple pie’ with apple filling and ice ream, white chocolate, tsoureki-style and more.
Even further from the traditional dessert, Loukumami (on Katsoulieri 6 in Halandri) serves French beignets (filled with cream and dusted with icing sugar) and Spanish churros (a crunchy, narrow fried, sweet dough covered in sugar and cinnamon or dipped in chocolate sauce). These can also be accompanied by fresh cream sauces and other accompaniments.
Also in Halandri is trendy Melouk (Kolokotroni 5), which combines loukouma-eating with cocktail-drinking. In a post-industrial style store with a cozy ambiance, loukouma experimentation is highly encouraged – you can sample various types of fried dumplings filled with a huge choice of fillings such as Chios mastic cream and bitter chocolate, or butterscotch cream and caramelised almonds, as well as a choice of savoury fillings such as bacon and caramelised onions or chicken, cheddar cheese and chili.