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At the end of a long and delicious night of revelry in the bars and bouzouki clubs of the Plaka, the ancient Athens neighborhood clustered against the base of the Acropolis, I followed my group of friends through the dark city streets into the odoriferous maze of the Central Market. Passing shuttered fish stalls, butcher shops, spice emporiums, and a drunk relieving himself against a wall, we entered a narrow side street. There we took our places in a queue that snaked down a flight of stairs and into a basement establishment. I thought at first that we had arrived at yet another watering hole, but when we were finally ushered inside I saw that it was something else entirely: a cavernous subterranean eatery, as crowded and raucous as if it were lunchtime. Beneath the glare of bare bulbs dangling into curls of cigarette smoke, customers dined shoulder to shoulder: revelers like us finishing a night on the town and workingmen — butchers, fishmongers, and vegetable dealers — seeking early morning sustenance before opening their stalls in the Central Market. “We already ate tonight. What are we doing here?” I asked my friend Adonis, an Athenian and our unofficial guide for the evening. “We’ve come for a bowl of soup,” he said, “but not just any soup.” This was patsa, he explained reverentially. “Salvation in a bowl” — a restorative tonic that would cleanse and bolster our blood and our livers and prevent what seemed to be inevitable after such a fine night: one hell of a hangover.
As soon as we were seated, a waiter arrived and covered our table with clean white butcher paper, snapping it into place with metal clips. Within moments he returned with a tray full of steaming bowls of pungently aromatic soup that he allowed to slop over the sides in his rush to serve us and the rest of the hungry crowd.
A tonic? My “salvation”? I mused to myself as I stared into my bowl. It looked more like broth to me. But as Adonis lifted his spoon to his mouth, he looked at me and said, “To this, my dear, we will be thankful tomorrow.” And he was right. …read more