Evripi­dou: Still adding spice to Athe­nian life

It’s worth a walk down this street just to take in the heady aro­mas, but take a closer look and you’ll find there’s much more than meets the nose

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SEM­INA SARANTOPOULOU *

“What can I say about cin­na­mon? I could spend hours talk­ing about this pas­sion po­tion. Just close your eyes and taste it. It’s sweet and sour, like all women,” said the ven­dor on Evripi­dou Street. Traders and cus­tomers seem to share the same in­ten­sity here: When they talk spices it’s as if they’re dis­cussing po­etry. But the real rit­ual be­gins when they ac­tu­ally start tast­ing them.

On a re­cent Satur­day morn­ing, de­spite the fact that the city cen­ter was closed to traf­fic due to a demon­stra­tion, cus­tomers were queu­ing out­side Bachar (est. 1940). No one ap­peared to be in a rush. They were happy rub­bing be­tween their fin­gers and smelling a few of the 2,500 herbs and spices from around the world, ex­chang­ing views over po­tions and spices and, when they fi­nally reached the till, ask­ing for more than they had writ­ten down on their shop­ping list. “Cri­sis or no cri­sis, the best buys are those made based on the palate, the nose and the soul, not the wal­let,” said Evan­thia, a res­i­dent of Ko­ry­dal­los, a north­ern sub­urb of Pi­raeus, who spent more than 50 euros on herbs and spices.

In the mean­time, lit­tle Olga was play­ing with the pep­pers in a sack, as if shov­el­ing sand on the beach.

“I was just like her when I was that age. Ev­ery fes­tive meal would be­gin with my grand­fa­ther, who had a great nose, and me vis­it­ing the mar­ket to buy spices. I live in Elef­sina now, but I still bring my daugh­ter here once a week so that she too can have mem­o­ries filled with the aroma of mahlab,” said another cus­tomer, Le­nio.

Images of crowds on Evripi­dou Street are noth­ing new. Ever since 1886, the year the city’s mu­nic­i­pal mar­ket opened its doors, the Er­mou-Sta­diou-Athi­nas street tri­an­gle along with the broader Mona­s­ti­raki area have main­tained close links with the food trade. The por­tion of Evripi­dou stretch­ing from Ae­olou to Me­nan­drou streets, for in­stance, hosts 15 spice and 12 food stores. In be­tween th­ese are ar­ti­san’s shops sell­ing equip- ment (bar­rels, sacks) for the dis­tri­bu­tion of the mar­ket’s wares. How th­ese highly spe­cial­ized stores sell­ing ev­ery­thing from lamp hats to zip­pers, bas­kets, corks, es­sen­tial oils, sieves and fish­ing and hunt­ing gear sur­vive is a mys­tery. Also open for business in the same spot for a num­ber of years is To Magazaki tis Amor­gou (The Lit­tle Store of Amor­gos), with straw goods, while nearby there is a Byzan­tine icons store and a shoe shop for the el­derly.

The Katos fam­ily has been spe­cial­iz­ing in pro­fes­sional (restau­rant, cafes, pas­try shops) and home wares over the last two decades. From glasses to cut­lery, china and elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances, there is plenty to choose from. De­spite the cri­sis, peo­ple are still in­ter­ested in qual­ity and opt for items that “re­sist time and won’t wear out eas­ily,” said Ra­nia, a fam­ily mem­ber.

Mean­while, the Chi­nese com­mu­nity com­prise a large por­tion of the neigh­bor­hood’s res­i­dents. Most of the thou­sands of Chi­nese who im­mi­grated to Athens con­duct business in Me­tax­ourgeio, the cap­i­tal’s so-called Chi­na­town, but a lot have set up shop show­cas­ing low-cost im­ports in the Evripi­dou area. Ev­ery fam­ily mem­ber is em­ployed in the business and although hard to to talk to – they tend to keep a very low pro­file, ac­cord­ing to a passer-by – I will not for­get a smil­ing Chi­nese woman who sug­gested, in im­pec­ca­ble English, a 5euro hair­cut.

Ev­ery day, ex­cept Sun­days, many Athe­ni­ans leave their sub­ur­ban malls be­hind and come to visit this mul­ti­cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment full of hid­den trea­sures. Es­tab­lished in 1959, Elixirion is all about herbal ther­a­pies. “A pinch of spice a day keeps the doc­tor away,” said Maria, the owner, who in the space of just a few min­utes in­formed me that cloves help with in­di­ges­tion, oregano fights os­teo­poro­sis, sage im­proves mem­ory, curry slows down the ag­ing process, thyme is used as an an­ti­sep­tic, mar­jo­ram is sooth­ing for headaches, rose­mary pre­vents strokes and co­rian­der is good for the soul. While I was brows­ing through the huge glass bowls filled with dried aro­matic plants from Peru, an ath­lete came in look­ing for a su­per­food pow­der mix, a housewife pre­sented a home­o­pathic recipe for in­testi­nal pains, while an el­derly gen­tle­man asked whether “th­ese goji berries I read about in mag­a­zines will help me live un­til the age of 120.” Maria noted that cus­tomers of­ten visit the store to avoid tak­ing con­ven­tional medicines or vis­it­ing a psy­chi­a­trist, as most of them suf­fer from in­som­nia, stress and de­pres­sion.

A group of six French vis­i­tors in town for a gas­tron­omy tour were stand­ing out­side Mi­ran, one of the street’s old­est stores. With stewed meat­ball ba­tons and cured camel meat hang­ing on hooks above their heads and while beef sausages were be­ing pre­pared, they de­cided to stay, sip some tsipouro (a lo­cal spirit with a hearty kick) and taste some cheese and cold meat plat­ters. “In the last few years peo­ple have been want­ing to buy good­ies com­bin­ing qual­ity and af­ford­able prices. You won’t come across th­ese prod­ucts at su­per­mar­kets, and here, be­sides ev­ery­thing else, we take real plea­sure in our close con­tact with cus­tomers and have de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships based on mu­tual trust. This gives us a time­less qual­ity. Be­fore you buy, you try,” said the store’s owner, Mi­ran Kouroun­lian, a third-gen­er­a­tion char- cu­terie spe­cial­ist.

Arapian opened for business on Evripi­dou in 1935. Owner Fanis Theodor­opou­los and Paraskevas Sari­bo­gias, co-owner of the award-win­ning Sary cold meats business in Drama, north­ern Greece, re­cently opened Ta Kara­man­lidika tou Fani, a mezedes restau­rant in a neo­clas­si­cal build­ing on the cor­ner of 1 Socra­tous and 52 Evripi­dou streets. The idea was to re­vive the Byzan­tine kitchen cul­ture of cured meat and also serve gluten-free del­i­ca­cies (th­ese have proved very popular al­ready) as well as Cap­pado­cian recipes.

The mood changes to­ward Ae­olou Street, where Evripi­dou seems to get di­vided into two sec­tions: on the one hand the more tra­di­tional part, head­ing down to Pireos Street from Athi­nas, and the more hip side, to­ward the city cen­ter. The for­mer Stam­atopou­los shoe store nowa­days houses Har­vest Cof­fee & Wine, where groups of young folk sa­vor brunch against a jazz back­drop. A new all-day hang­out, SQ, re­cently opened its doors on the junc­tion of Prax­itelous and Aghiou Markou, while near the Klaoudatos store (a Greek house­wives’ haven), you’ll come across a travel agency, a toy store, a sou- vlaki restau­rant, an en­grav­ings store, an espresso bar and a tea shop – where pa­trons can sa­vor one of the lat­est global trends, cold bub­ble tea.

Am­pa­zour was es­tab­lished at 1 Evripi­dou Street 60 years ago. The store spe­cial­izes in hand­made hats for floor and ceil­ing lamps, with prices rang­ing from 10 to 500 euros. Olympia Per­volaraki, cur­rent owner and daugh­ter of the store’s founder, de­scribes this tra­di­tional pro­fes­sional as “haute cou­ture,” given that long hours are re­quired for the con­fec­tion of each item, from color and fab­ric se­lec­tion (Ital­ian and French silk and taffeta, among oth­ers) to de­sign­ing, sewing, dec­o­rat­ing and putting the fin­ish­ing touches. “Lamp hats are not a pri­or­ity for con­sumers, but we have sur­vived nev­er­the­less,” said Per­volaraki, who counts the Ho­tel Grande Bre­tagne among her clients. “I was afraid that large-scale in­dus­trial de­sign chain stores would dam­age our business, but it turns out that peo­ple still pre­fer to dec­o­rate their homes with some­thing spe­cial.”

Most of the neigh­bor­hood’s 19th-cen­tury build­ings, once sig­na­ture spec­i­mens of Athe­nian neo­clas­si­cism, are now di­lap­i­dated. What con­cerns lo­cal store own­ers more than shut-down busi­nesses and out-of-use build­ings though is crime. In an ef­fort to main­tain the street’s character, the state de­clared it a “tra­di­tional com­merce” area in 2012, ef­fec­tively re­mov­ing all el­e­ments al­ter­ing the mar­ket’s fea­tures. The traders’ vi­sion, how­ever, is not for the street to turn into an out­door spice mar­ket show­cas­ing gourmet prod­ucts and op­er­at­ing daily as a tourist at­trac­tion.

“Five years ago, as soon as it got dark, peo­ple were afraid to walk around with all the drug ad­dicts and bag snatch­ers,” said Panayiota, owner of a whole­sale nut business. “Things are not that dan­ger­ous th­ese days, but what we meant by a city cen­ter re­vamp was im­proved polic­ing, as op­posed to sweep op­er­a­tions con­ducted just to keep up ap­pear­ances.” * This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in Kathimerini’s Sun­day ‘K’ sup­ple­ment on Novem­ber 9, 2014.

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