Diporto is a basement-level taverna (koutouki in Greek) located at the corner of Sokratous and Theatrou Streets in the district of Athens Central Market. Even though the 150 years old building that houses the taverna, which is as old as the building, has two staircases, leading to either street, you would never guess the world of wonders that awaits you at its basement.
Things get tricky here. This place has no sign –mind you, the word taverna is nowhere to be found- to inform you that there is something interesting going on at the basement and that you should be extra careful not to hit your head as you walk down the stairs.
Once you manage to safely make your way downstairs, you see the kitchen on your left and right across you, a wall covered with huge 600kg barrels. In this no- frills taverna where there are just about ten tables laid with paper tablecloth, don’t look for a “reserved” sign on them; it’s good to know beforehand that you probably won’t sit and eat alone. And here’s why: the place is usually overcrowded and until you get an empty table, you usually have to sit with total strangers. However, by the time you get to be transferred to your table, you have already engaged yourself in a nice conservation and no longer wish to go. It’s very easy to meet new people here.
Be prepared for one more stunning experience though; between the time you sit down and kyr Mitsos (kyr, added before the name of an old man, is a way to speak about, salute, address him in a respectful way, an informal word), the owner, comes to take your order, you won’t have to wait longer than thirty seconds! In another sixty seconds maximum, you are served your first, then your second course and anything else you have ordered.
The menu is not that long after all; bean soup, chickpea soup, beans, broad beans, yellow split pea purée (fava), “married” fava – yellow split pea purée served with a topping of either stewed capers or stewed eggplants, cod, fried sardines, potato stew with tomato sauce, beef stew with pasta, veal orzo, fresh salads and wine. Each plate has a unique taste second to none.
I have been a regular client at Diporto for many years now. Kyr Michalis, the old owner of Diporto, died from a stroke inside the taverna in Easter 1991. His children were not the new owners; besides, they were never involved in the family business. This time, the new owner was kyr Mitsos, the former waiter. An assiduous hard-working man obsessed with cleanliness, kyr Mitsos wins you over at first sight with this noble appearance and this honest, clean-cut face. In his spotless white uniform, kyr Mitsos always managed to find a seat for everyone, even if revelers arrived here in large numbers.
Since the old days, Diporto was considered as the taverna of Athens Central Market. People from all professions would populate it since dawn. Fishmongers would arrive first, followed by greengrocers, butchers and countless others. Luckily, it was this particular feature of the venue that, unlike the other restaurants in the district, saved it from the harm of being turned into one more attraction for tourists and, consequently, into something fake.