“Batzina” a pie that became a grocery store in Koukaki

6 mins read

I like the aimless walks in Athens, which I often do especially on sunny mornings that are slowly dwindling. On one such walk the road took me to Koukaki in Parthenonos street and there I saw something oxymoronic, on one side of the road a large supermarket and at number 3 a small grocery store which I will call a modern grocery store. Without a second thought I went inside, I was even lucky, because the owner Kostas Fotiou was “present” to answer my questions.

Koukaki is a completely touristic area, maybe it is the kingdom of short term rentals in Attica. I think there are two categories of people living in Koukaki, people who want to live in a very nice area and pay a very expensive rent and others who either grew up there or inherited a house. These in my opinion are the ones who are tortured the most as they will be stuck with the thought of leaving every day to rent their now lucrative place. I stumble around a bit on the outside looking at the “Bajina grocery store” sign that reads, and inside I look around at the produce on the walls. The center is dominated by a carpet on which a table of produce sits. The pleasant surprise was that there was jazz music playing on the radio.

Kostas Fotiou is not a grocer in the sense of the classic grocer, the one with the apron who cuts your cheese and cold cuts, but we can say that he is a modern grocer who wears a shirt and a cardigan. He sits behind his counter and comes out every now and then to serve his customers. He’s a grocer who, as he told me:

“I try to do a lot of market research to always have select things. I visit a lot of fairs, find a lot of producers, get to know them in person, and try their products. Then and only then are they approved and put on the shelves of Bajina.”

What is this Bajina and why did you open a grocery store I asked him:

“I have been in the Koukaki area since 2019. I opened the grocery store, Bajina, a year and a half ago. I was born and raised in Pangrati. Of course, my origin is from Ioannina and Karditsa, which is why Batzina is a purely Karditsian name, i.e. from Thessaly. Batzina is a pie without a pastry, very easy to make with cheese, milk, eggs and pumpkin.

The truth is that he brings frozen batzinas from Thessaly and Trikala and they are a big hit. While I stayed in his grocery store and chatted, several people stopped by to get their pie. Since I had never eaten batzina before, Kostas bought me one which, as he told me, straight from the freezer you throw in the oven at 180 degrees for an hour. That’s what I did when I got home and I have to admit I didn’t think baguette would be that tasty. On the other hand, Kostas was lucky to have tasted it since he was a little boy.

“I liked this pie, I have grown up with pies, because my mother, being from Thessaly, used to open a leaf for fun. I never ate pies in a restaurant or outside in shops, because I always had an authentic taste at home and I always got into a comparison process. I never liked any pie like my mother’s. When I thought about opening a small grocery store I wanted to emphasize pies, so the name baguette was the most appropriate choice.”

I was browsing the products in the grocery store, looking at the variety and wondering which customer Batzina was targeting. The tourist who will be dazzled by the authentic Greek product or the Greek who is looking for quality and mama’s taste.

“My target is the Greek customer, because both the name is Greek and the prices are quite friendly and my customers are not only tourists but many Greeks. Because of the area, of course, a lot of tourists also come to buy oils, olives, soaps, the more touristy products, so to speak.”

But he has his regular daily customers who will take their milk, yoghurt, pita, trachana, wine, beer. Because, to be honest, from November until April tourism drops a little. That’s why Kostas Fotiou and his Batzina are doing research in order to have as many quality products from small producers as possible, without this being easy:

“There is also a difficulty with small producers sometimes, because their production may not be too big to be able to cover you. A lot of producers, when I started working with them, say, you know, I can’t cover you, because the local community in the area where they are is trying to absorb them. Then there is always the problem of transport which is a painful process. Especially when the transport costs are higher than the product itself.

Which regions of Greece produce enough products to meet the needs of a grocery store?

“Crete is a place that produces an abundance of everything, I have several products from Crete,” Kostas Fotiou tells me. “Pies from Thessaly, Trikala and Karditsa. Peloponnese then with oils and olives.”

We were interrupted by a mother with her baby in a pram who asked if she had organic olives. I watched him as he walked back to his stall and couldn’t help but ask such a communicative man if he enjoys being behind a stall.

“Being here pleases me. I like it because it combines both the dining and the commercial side. The communication is helped by the area having excellent people, that is, and the tourists are very open to conversation, they are not tiresome. I really like the products I sell like dried figs which are excellent, herbs and teas. I really like the pies which are close to the taste of the ones my mother used to make or I wouldn’t sell them. I sell them with a lot of pride and I say I’ve gone and found them, I’ve tasted them, I’ve met the producers, the women who open the dough. There’s a sale, you know? It’s not just a supermarket you pick it up and leave, there’s a soul.”

The truth is that we are afraid of small shops, because we think that in a small grocery or grocery store everything will be very expensive and not as cheap as in a supermarket. On the other hand, the prices I saw in Bajina didn’t seem unaffordable or unreasonable, they seemed reasonable given the times we live in, because don’t tell me you still think of the supermarket as something so cheap anymore. People nowadays in their shopping do their research, they go to three different supermarkets and in these times we live in I think it is time in our market research to visit small grocery stores or grocery shops and you may end up becoming a regular customer of these. Kind of like what happened with the steady customers that Kostas acquired:

“First of all, how does the acquaintance happen: he comes into the shop timidly to get something, a milk… a yoghurt. We strike up a conversation, I show him around the place, show him the products, answer his questions, he sees the prices and slowly he becomes more casual. He can get his spices, his tea, he can get his rice, even his detergents. I am investing more in the customer who will love the bhajina and its products. Most customers have become friends, we come over for a glass of wine, a beer. My friend Antonis is coming over, you’ll stop by on one of your walks and we’ll call you in and buy you a beer.”

I saw a lot of beers in the coolers, Batzina supports microbrewing from what I could tell since they have about a hundred labels. He even rang the phone a couple of times to ask if he had any cheesecake or Bajina and to hold them. The grocery store is open from ten in the morning to ten at night and Kostas Fotiou tries to be there as many hours as he can and I hope you will catch him behind his counter with the nice jazz music playing on the radio and get to know him, because it is not unlikely that you will become his regular customers like Mr. Thanasis and Mrs. Olga who are some of his favorite customers. Who get the Greek walnuts, the peeled pumpkin seeds, the cheeses, and they’ll get their wine when they have their visit. Like the dad who walked in nail-bitingly carrying the day’s groceries and asked for a mince pie that his sons are eating. While he wants to get a milk pie so long but can’t eat it himself since his kids won’t even try it.

For 20 euros one can get a lot of nice things and have a rich lunch. Get your pies, your pasta, your sauces. These are definitely the products you will find tastiest, most special and not unobtainable. As customers, let’s give small shops a chance, because along with these small grocery stores or grocery stores, we support small producers and, as they used to say, we insist on Greek if we want there to be Greek production of quality products.

Out of nowhere on this aimless walk I met a happy forty-something who likes his job, we talked about Greek products and discussed the flavors and memories they evoke. We even wondered why this state of ours does not lower the transport costs, so that some Greek products become even cheaper and therefore accessible to the Greek consumer.

He kissed me goodbye with a batzina, dried figs being his favourite and the elixir of life. No, Kostas Fotiou is not a magician, he does not make elixirs in his Bajina. The Elixir of Life is an herbal blend of apple, echinacea, lemongrass, louise, rose petals and elixir flowers, which is delicious and I’m already running low on it, so I can see myself visiting Bajina soon to restock, try another pie and say hello to Kostas.

Visit the grocery store “Batzina” in Koukaki, [Parthenonos 3, Athens] and learn more on fb & instagram

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