Travel

Ask the experts: tagines, music festivals, and where to drink in Athens

Our panel answer all your culinary questions, including where to find cheap eats in Dubai and which music festivals have the best food Monday, 8 April 2019

By National Geographic Traveller Food

Can you recommend some great bars to try on a long weekend in Athens?
As much as I love exploring new cities, I always enjoy coming home to Athens, where the nightlife is second to none. Each neighbourhood is different, whether you’re looking for a sophisticated wine bar, inventive cocktails or a drink with a view.
Heteroclito, in the centre of Athens, offers over 200 Greek wines — including those made with local grape types xinomavro and malagousia — plus delicious cheeses and cold cuts. Also in the centre, The Clumsies is a restored neoclassical mansion and one of the World’s 50 Best Bars, with sumptuous cocktails and a magical vibe. For a Greek-inspired cocktail with views of the Acropolis, head over to the rooftop Galaxy Restaurant & Bar at Hilton Athens, which has a menu of traditional spirits including masticha and ouzo, as well as classic drinks with a modern twist. The Speakeasy, meanwhile, is rather hard to find — tucked away on a small street near Syntagma Square — but that’s all part of the fun. Ring the doorbell for entry and then treat yourself to a personalised concoction surrounded by a buzzing atmosphere. However, if you’re more into craft beer than cocktails, Athens’ independent brewery scene is thriving. Barley Cargo is a great spot for artisan Greek beers. Chrissy Manika, blogger and founder, travelpassionate.com

I’d like to go to a UK music festival that’s also great for food. What are the best options?
The days of queuing for a dirty burger are over. Many music festivals now embrace gourmet food — and some, like The Big Feastival, hosted by Blur bassist-turned-cheesemaker Alex James, are more of a food festival with music alongside. Set on James’ Wiltshire farm, it’s packed with food stalls, demos and samples. The bands tend to be old hands (The Bluetones and Peter Hook played last year), becoming more dance-y after dusk. In Oxfordshire, Wilderness Festival features long-table banquets and field restaurants serving food from celebrity chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi and Angela Hartnett. DJs play until the early hours and the line-up is fairly cutting-edge, with Baxter Dury and Jon Hopkins playing in 2018. Latitude, in Suffolk, combines music, comedy and literature, plus it has a buzzing, tented restaurant each year and a small stage with interactive cookery sessions. The musical line-up tends to incorporate crowd-pleasers and new music. If you like exotic flavours and world music, head to Wiltshire for WOMAD. It has a stage devoted to food workshops where performers cook for the audiences, and the site is packed with stalls selling everything from samosas to goat curry. On a smaller scale, check out Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park, which took its offering of bands and cookery demos on a UK tour last summer. Natalie Paris, freelance journalist

I have a long stopover in Dubai — what’s the best option for authentic, affordable dining?
If you only have a few hours, skip the fancier side of town in favour of the unassuming neighbourhoods of Old Dubai, where eating tends to be more affordable. Expat communities have infused these areas with delicious flavours at affordable prices. Take the metro from the airport to Al Rigga station in Deira. At the nearby Al Amoor restaurant Egyptian bakers twirl feteer dough before cooking it in a tandoor oven. Feteer is like an inside-out pizza, stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings, such as cheese, olives and basturma (the Egyptian version of beef pastrami) — and starts at around £4. Ask for koshari sauce if you’d like a bit of heat with it. From there it’s a short walk to Aroos Damascus, a local favourite. Try the shawarma sandwich with hummus Beiruti — a version of the classic dip with parsley. Cross over to Bur Dubai on a traditional abra boat and head to the predominantly Indian district of Meena Bazaar. Bombay Se is a tiny eatery that serves Mumbai’s favourite street food, vada pav — a seasoned mashed potato patty in a pillowy bun. Pair it with a glass of karak chai — together they cost about £1.25. Farida Ahmed, general manager, Frying Pan Adventures, Dubai

What do I need to know when buying a tagine?
Tagine, the Moroccan stew, takes its name from the pot it’s cooked in — and there are a few things to bear in mind when buying one of these vessels. Traditionally, tagines are made of earthenware (mostly clay) and aren’t glazed. When buying, decide what you want to use it for; those designed for serving are often beautifully decorated but can’t be exposed to heat. For cooking, I recommend an unglazed clay version, though you need to take precautions to avoid cracks. When using a gas or electric hob, place the tagine on a heat diffuser and start on a very low heat, slowly raising it as necessary. And once your food is cooked, place the pot on a wooden board, rather than on a cold surface. Earthenware tagines, both glazed and unglazed, should also be ‘seasoned’ (treated) before use. This not only prevents cracking, but for unglazed pots it also removes an unpleasant clay taste. The manufacturer or seller should give instructions on how best to season their product. In Morocco, you can find excellent tagines just by wandering in the souk of any city. Depending on the size, prices can vary from around 200 MAD (£17) for a small one to 800 MAD (£70) for a larger version. But if you can’t make it to Morocco, there are plenty of stockists in the UK. Emile Henry offers great earthenware tagines, while Le Creuset makes beautiful versions from stoneware and cast iron — materials that don’t require seasoning and aren’t sensitive to heat. They’re not the most authentic option, but at least you don’t have to worry about cracks. Nargisse Benkabbou, author, Casablanca: My Moroccan Food

As seen in Issue 4 of National Geographic Traveller Food.

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