ATHENS (Xinhua) – In a quiet backstreet of Athens’s busy commercial centre, people queue every day inside a small store offering what is probably one of the oldest snacks in the world.
The cheese pie, or tyropita in Greek, traces its roots back to the Byzantine Empire and even the Golden Age of Athens (5th Century AD) when, according to historians, affluent citizens would nibble at it as they assembled at the Agora or watched theatre performances.
A lot has changed since then, but not the ancient Greek tyropita, or at least not beyond recognition. Created by the simple combination of flour-based dough and cheese, it comes in many variations across Greece depending on the kind of cheese produced in each place, but also across the Balkans, dominating the peninsula’s strong pie-making tradition.
Modern-day Greeks, too, can hardly resist grabbing a piece of freshly-baked tyropita on their way to work in the morning. Delicious, affordable, and perfectly sized to be eaten on the go, cheese pie remains one of the most popular street foods in Greece. And you can find it literally everywhere if you don’t have the time or skill to make it at home: in cafeterias, canteens, snack bars, supermarkets, bakeries and, of course, dedicated pie stores.
But beware: quality is key here. And it is probably the reason why Athenians and visitors alike have been swarming to the store of Theodoros Panagiotopoulos for the past 110 years to buy his legendary cheese pie. “All our products are hand-made, without chemical additives, fresh, they are made daily and consumed daily, and this is the key to our success all these years,” the manager of the long-standing business told Xinhua.
Founded in 1910, when Athens was still a small, rural town, at the exact same spot you will find it today, this iconic bakery, which has become a modern food landmark of the city, has seen two world wars, a civil war, one regime change, and the face of the capital utterly transformed.
Its cheese pies have been savoured by four generations of Athenians, among which celebrated artistes, Nobel prize-winning poets and influential statesmen since it stands within a stone’s throw from the Parliament.
“It is very moving to see Athenians who have lived abroad for a long time return and get emotional when they find our store still standing here. After all, the age of our store exceeds the average life expectancy of a human,” Panagiotopoulos stressed.
Panagiotopoulos, who is soon planning to hand over the management to his son, the fourth generation of the founding family, has kept his store largely unaltered through time, except for the modern prep room.
The same old sign and retro display windows welcome the customers, no coffee is available, no sandwiches: the tyropita is the undisputed queen here, followed by an appetising court of dozens other traditional Greek pies, with a vast variety of fillings. More than 1,000 cheese pies go daily in and out of the store’s huge oven, which has been working non-stop in the basement since the 1950s.
Nowadays, its reputation as a synonym of quality cheese pie precedes the store and many travellers have discovered it.