Guide to SKOPJE

All about Tyropita: The classic snack of Greece


Notorious for skipping breakfast, the Greeks will start worrying about substantial food later, when it’s time for dekatiano or “10 o’clock snack”. This snack is, more often than not, the ubiquitous tyropita: the cheese pie. You’ll find tyropita everywhere: at stops along the routes of travelers; at a workplace café; at the school/university canteen; in every cafeteria and bakery; in every super-market or corner store.

It’s almost a synonym to “snack”. It’s altogether another story than the infinite variety of pies (pites) prepared at home by mom/grandmom, influenced bydeep-rooted traditions. This comfort food you buy outside the home is closer to convenience.

Recently, healthy/traditional foodstuffs were“re-discovered” and tyropita became far more sophisticated than the(packed and shipped frozen) flaky-pastry version, filled with leftover feta cheese crumblesthat since the 1970’shad become most commonly available (and is still much sought after). Another classic has been(and is) thevariety called“baking sheet’s”(tapsiou), always produced at a small scale and closer to tradition. It is cutfrom the tin-sheet to be sold in square pieces. This version tends to include more feta&béchamel saucefilling and is usually baked with fyllo pastry.

The downturn to healthier trends, for some, is that tyropita is now a key-product of multiple-chain stores, more mass-produced than ever. You’ll find fillings with low-fat anthotyro (Cretan cottage cheese) and other regional cheeses, artisanal crusts of whole-grain flour etc. Also, regional versions unknown to the capital city started pouring in, marketed via chains, such as the original Thessaloniki “bougatsa with cheese” (with a different, rich and thickfyllopastry) or the Skopelos island one in a spiral – shaped thin fyllo pastry, fried in olive oil.

“Bougatsa with cheese” from Thessaloniki

Moreover, the Turkish word “kuru” (dry) has recently hit the Greek vernacular meaning the old crusty yogurt-based dough, casing the old feta cheese. In Athens, you’re bound to hear it pronounced “guru”; we haven’t got the knack yet.

Some even write it down: “guru” (exotic!)

Chain-outlets dominate the urban market; on the other hand, they are obliged by demand to retain prices low. Modern lifestyle in Athens is hectic, people are overworked and underpaid; according to Eurostat statistics for the past decade, Greeks work the longest hours and get the least pay throughout the EU. The official lunch break time has disappeared and a snack is all you have time and money for.

Two shops – tribute to quality cheese pie in Athens

Against all odds, for many generations now, two historical outlets downtown continue to deliver  quality cheese pie to Athenians. I think, despite the dizzying variety offered today, it’s worth to mention them.

Ariston (“The Best”) on VoulisStreet in Syntagmaexists since 1910, to the same family of bakers. Its specialty is a half-moon shaped, crusty doughtyropita (kuru, I guess), filled with a peppery and creamy feta cheesemix. The store expanded its produce to now over 15 different pies of the tapsiou version, with an impressive array of meat and vegetable fillings, yet its tyropitacertainly remains the must. Busy Voulis street guarantees that demand is high, and service is quick. You get your piece warm and crunchy, half-wrapped in baking parchment paper – if you’re too hungry or want to save some for later, they’ll wrap more in a cardboard box of pink, boasting the firm’s old-fashioned logo.The bakery and its quality, even the lovely modernist building it’s situated in remain pretty much untouched by time.

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Mam (“Food” in baby talk) startedoff in 1958 on Pesmatzoglou Street, at the heart of Athens. It quickly became so successful that Mam No 2 opened a few meters away (1963) on central Panepistimiou (Venizelou) street. The best hit in this store is kaseropita (gooey & mild yellow cheese that melts when hot). The dough crust is crunchy at the edges and softer on the inside, not too oily, not too dry, just perfect! Make your order and in less than a blink you’ll be off with the treasure in hand.

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Well…even if you don’t know where to go for the best tyropita anywhere in Greece, I can tell you only one thing: just ask the locals. They always know best!

Sophia Nikolaou