Greece has a lot of problems but bread (psomi) isn’t one of them. This lovely half-kilo (1.1 lb) loaf of ciabatta came from a bakery in Kiato, a town about 5 miles east of here. Bread is price-controlled, and this loaf cost us .80 euro. We buy one every other day. Every village has at least one bread bakery, called a fourno, or oven. Ours is about 200 yards down the road. Towns and larger villages have more than one fourno, so one or more of them usually expand into sweet shops, which make and sell cakes, baklava, cookies, etc. The regular fournos usually sell savory snacks that folks eat mid morning in lieu of breakfast — mainly cheese and ham-and-cheese puff pastries.
In the old days, the fourno served as the village oven. Meals to be roasted were prepared at home and carried to the fourno where the baker would oversee the cooking for a few drachmas. Someone went back to the fourno at the appointed hour and brought the cooked dish home. You may be certain that this running to-and-fro was invariably accomplished by women and girls. I saw a rare instance of this ancient practice in a bakery in Xylokastro, the town on our western border. As I was waiting in line, the baker carried an enormous round pan of stuffed peppers and tomatoes from the back of the store and handed it to the woman in front of me. When I left the shop, she was carrying the pan down the road, stepping carefully I’m sure. I don’t know whether the pan wouldn’t fit in her oven or whether she didn’t want to heat up the house, but she knew exactly how to solve the problem.
We were surprised to find that Greece (this part of it, anyway) doesn’t have regional bread styles. Every fourno seems to bake a different kind of bread. In this village, the bread is fine-textured, white, and good for sandwiches. We like more rustic, crusty bread and the two bakeries we visit in Xylokastro fit that bill, including one that offers brown bread. We usually travel to Kiato because the oven is wood-fired and because…well, because it’s ciabatta! Kiato also enjoys the trade of a sensational sweet shop. We avert our eyes when we pass it on the road but man, oh man, what a way to pack on pounds.
I continue to be delighted to recognize cultural similarities between Greece and Puerto Rico. Panaderias play a similar role in Puerto Rico. If you live in town, you are always within walking distance of a panaderia. Almost all of them sell coffee, sweets and sandwiches, too. You can still take your own meal (like a large pork roast) to be cooked in their ovens as well. It is not surprising to see the similarity, since Greece is the original source of Western culture, but it is cool to see it survive to this day.
Unfortunately, with the abandonment of the inner cities, more supermarkets and the increased development of suburbs, we also see a slow but steady decline as one shop after another closes, casualties of the “Americanization” of Puerto Rician culture.
One surprising development is that one of the more popular panaderias, Ricomini, has become a regional chain located on larger roads, with shiny buildings and sizable parking lots, kind of like a 7-11 store in the States. The bread and pastries are baked on site and are as good as those at the original location. I think their success is a testament to both the quality of the food and, hopefully, it is a sign of their continued connection to their own heritage.