HELLINIKON: The Greek deli in Milan that introduced Italians to kourabiedes and melomakarona

Hellinikon

The kitchens in Greece may be smelling of kourabiedes and melomakarona that have just come out of the oven and are preparing to decorate the festive table, but this smell seems to be able to cross the border with the same ease, travel about 2000 kilometres to neighbouring Italy, specifically Milan.

In "Hellinikon-Prodotti Gastronomici Greci", the only Greek delicatessen that currently exists not only in Milan but also in the whole of Italy.

Greek tradition mixes with the festive mood of the holidays, giving the Greeks who live there nostalgic flavours and aromas from the homeland and on the other hand to the locals a few more reasons to know and love our country.

"Although we have kourabiedes on our shelves all year round because Italians go crazy with their taste and look for them every season as a dessert," Mr Kostas Lagiopoulos, owner of "Hellinikon", explains to me, "this season, they have, like and let's make it - together with the melomakarona that we only bring on holidays - their honour".

"Even the Greek students", he adds, "who don't manage to travel to Greece for the holidays, come and get the Christmas sweets from here and feel for a while that they are coming home and that they are putting themselves back in the kitchens of their mothers and grandmothers."

The kourabiedes, melomakarona and soon also the vasilopites, as I learn from Mr. Lagiopoulos, travel - standardised all - from his hometown, Aetolia-Acarnania in Agrinio and a local workshop, with which he has been collaborating for years.

Among the things available in the business these days are also the festive baskets (with kourabiedes, melomakarona, etc.) offered mainly by Greeks as gifts for the Christmas and New Year holidays (even as corporate gifts to businesses that managerial positions are occupied by Greeks).

However, Italians are also looking for the traditional Greek vasilopita, which they have been introduced to over the years, mainly through their contacts with Greeks or through their travels in our country. In fact, many of them observe our customs and traditionally cut them - and with their flour - on the first day of the year.

Costas Lagiopoulos' relationship with Italy was not born with "Hellinikon". Although he lived and worked in large construction companies in Greece in the past, he found himself again in our neighbouring country in the late 80s when he was studying architecture in Milan.

His wife, Konstantina Yiannopoulou, also studied (Modern Literature) in Italy, specifically at the University of Lecce, with whom they currently run the Greek delicatessen.

"Since 2012, we had the idea of ​​leaving Greece and building a shop with Greek products in Italy, mainly noticing the gap that existed in the market," he tells Olive Magazine.

In 2016, the couple finally realised their plans and settled permanently in Milan, with the initial philosophy of investing in an e-shop that supplies traditional Greek delicacies throughout the country.

Finally, first came the physical store and then the electronic one was born, which now ships Hellinikon products all over Italy, from the north to the south, and even reaches France.

But with which Greek goodies did Hellinikon manage to enter the hearts of Italians?

"Mainly with Kalamon olives, with feta cheese, but also with ouzo, which here in Italy we call liqueur," Mr. Lagiopoulos points out.

Nevertheless, on its shelves, one can look for labels of various small Greek producers from different regions of our country, mainly from the owner's hometown, Aetolia-Acarnania.

"We often travel to Greece and know the producers we work with closely," he explains.

"Yogurt, feta, graviera and myzithra, I bring from Papathanasiou, in Agrinio. I also get cookies, honey, olives and olive oil from Agrinio, although I also bring oil from Crete. The spoon sweets and jams come from a small village in Pella. The trachanades and the hilopites are from Veria, the tsipouro is from Patras, and the wines (malagouzia) are from Thermo.

As he explains to me, his Italian customers, before leaving for their holidays in Greece, come to the store and buy various Greek products to know what they will ask for when they arrive.

"Then," he says, "when they return, they talk to me, always with complimentary comments, about the Greek hospitality and the food they tried in Greece and then they buy from us what impressed them the most."

In the last year, "Hellinikon" has organised, among other things, courses in Greek gastronomy. About 20 people participate in the workshops, who, under the guidance of a Greek cook, prepare famous Greek mezes together (and then eat them together at a large communal table).

"It's nice to travel outside the Greek borders, the secrets of your cuisine. It's like bringing a piece of your homeland to a foreign place," admits Mr. Lagiopoulos, and with this nostalgic mood, he says goodbye to me shortly before he gets back to work behind the counter of "Hellinikon".

Loukia Chrysovitsanou is a columnist for Olive Magazine

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