Shopping foods in Athens

Shopping foods in Athens is quite a different experience than in a typical Swiss city where we almost have a duopoly of Migros and Coop where you can find everything from artichokes to zinc supplement.

If you want to buy all these products in a big supermarket like you’re used to in Switzerland you may face some difficulties. You can choose between five different Greek supermarket chains which can be found on every corner. Due to the dense structure of the city which grew very fast in the second half of the 20th century, almost all of these are tiny supermarkets which are located in the first and second floor of residential blocks. Therefore, the assortment is rather small. If one wants to go to a bigger (and often cheaper) supermarket, you have to go to the outskirts of Athens – which is not worth the effort.

Besides the small range of products in the average supermarket another thing is remarkable too: Dairy products and meat are available at the counter and not in self-service fridges. If they are, the prices are significantly higher. The Greeks prefer the old-fashioned counter with the employee who cuts, grates and vacuum-packs your cheese if desired.

By the way, cheese and all the other products from cows are more expensive than in western Europe: Cows are fairly uncommon due to the mountainous topography and the quite arid vegetation. The local farmers prefer small animals like goats, sheep, pigs and chicken and moreover they grow wine, olives and different kinds of fruits and vegetables. This way of farming is reflected in the Greek cuisine.

To go to different supermarkets in order to see if they have promotions is the best thing you can do if you want to buy beef, milk or cheese nevertheless. But I wanted to adapt to the local circumstances, so I changed my shopping and cooking habits to a more local, Mediterranean way.

Unlike in Switzerland there are still a lot of special shops and to buy there is a good way to support the locals. Unfortunately, it seems like they are awaiting the same fate as they did in Switzerland: They can’t compete with supermarkets and eventually they may die out.

A local alternative though, which is likely to survive due to its high popularity and its low prices, is the so called “people’s market”. A weekly market which is held in every neighborhood of Athens at different times of the week.

It’s a whole new experience to what I’m used from shopping at home – a festival for the senses: Farmers, fishermen and travelling people from the rural surrounding of the city sell their products, shouting and bargaining. Smell of herbs, fishes and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the orthodox priest to the fashionable lady everyone is there having a chit-chat at the street corners. I buy my eggs at the same market stall every week and recently the grocer started to recognize me and had a little talk with me – it feels like the concrete juggernaut Athens turns into a village for few hours.

Concluded, shopping everyday goods in Athens is maybe not as comfortable as at home but it’s way more personal and eventful than there.

Severin Küenzi

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