Words and Pictures by Artemis Tsipi
Graviera Cheese Piraeus
What’s the strangest place you have ever eaten dinner in?
I’m sure you can name a few good ones, but how about a grocery shop? And one that is almost 100 years old at that?
Yup. That’s right!
I believe, you normally wouldn’t even venture into such a not so fancy place, riddled with war bullet holes at its roller shutters. A grocery shop, which hasn’t really been restored at any time during the last century and is hidden somewhere behind the central streets of Piraeus, the largest port in Greece. Unless of course you’re quite adventurous and want to breathe in true local atmosphere and fill your tummy with simple but yet tasty food, the food which locals have enjoyed in the same way for ages now.
Then this so-called tavern-grocery shop is for you. It is one of the original taverna-grocery shops which have flourished throughout Greece over the last 100 years and which combine essential food shopping with actual tasting at the same time. And to top it off, most of these shops usually have their own local wine production of retsina in their basement. Not bad, huh?
“Eidikon” (means “Special” in Greek) is one of the most authentic tavern-grocery shops that still exists in Piraeus and has basically remained the same for over a century, without changing much: crystal chandeliers hang over unsuspecting visitors, a huge carved wooden fridge cabinet dominates the back side of the serving counter, vintage radio appliances around and pictures of politicians, artists and people who have been regular customers are all over the place, while the shelves are stuffed with canned food and ouzo bottles. And every corner has its own story to tell.
Albeit a tavern, the food itself is not the shop’s secret to success. There are few ingredients, cooked home-style from a very short menu which is verbally announced by a grandpa waiter (!): fresh cut fried potatoes with gooey egg yolks on top, horiatiki salad (fresh, juicy tomatoes with cucumber, onion, olives, oregano, feta cheese and lots of extra virgin olive oil), good quality Graviera cheese from the Greek islands, delicious hot meatballs – crispy on the outside, with lots of fresh mint inside-, fava beans with thinly sliced onion, generous pepper, olive oil and fresh lemon juice, spicy sausages and an oldie but goodie specialty: omelet with corned beef.
Yummy yes, but not the peak of gastronomy, I dare say.
But the key to Eidikon’s success lies beyond the obvious and is not easy for any modern taverna to replicate, namely this special tavern-grocery shop atmosphere: coming together is the word that best describes it.
A coming together of people from every background and walk of life, who meet in a common place to lay back and enjoy company, friends, talking, laughing, dancing, music and to top it off pure and hearty food.