The Kalymnos "Alternative Grocery Store" that even delivers to Alaska

Kalymnos Alternative Grocery

With a deep commitment to the good things to Kalymnos and a personal passion for finding pure products from many other islands and rural mainland Greece, Petros Tiliakos and Marianna Pulla, for five years, have been giving us additional reasons to feel proud of people living and working in the countryside.

Their "Alternative Grocery Store", which operates all year round in the capital of Kalymnos and one of the most central - and developing - pedestrian streets of the city, unites on its shelves the efforts of dozens of small Greek producers from every corner of the country, bringing to the island products from central and northern Greece, the Peloponnese, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese and Crete.

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Flavours and aromas of Greece on the island of sponges

The intention of Marianna and Petros was clear from the beginning in what it has to do with the orientation of the store.

"We didn't want to create another supermarket store. From the beginning, our goal was to look for home crafts, cooperatives, and small local businesses throughout Greece, with producers who had delicious and interesting products that could be placed on our shelves without intermediaries. Basically, we had in mind an alternative grocery store,” he told Olive Magazine about how the name came about.

The conversation is interrupted as a customer enters the shop, and Marianna offers her one of the melomakarona's with molasses that she took out of the oven at her home a while ago and brought as a treat to the shop.

And the customer may have filled her mouth with sweetness, but my eyes were also filled with sweetness when looking at the colourful and multi-collectible shelves of the grocery store.

Among his little treasures, I can easily distinguish Pulses from Prespes, rice from Serres, pasta from Crete and Rhodes, almonds and walnuts from Domoko and Pella, flour from Lamia and Thessaly, nut spreads from Xanthi, nuts from Crete and Thessaly, olive oil from Messolonghi and finally, Armenian wine made from pomegranates, from an Armenian family living in Athens (they also bring wine from Sifnos, Serifos, Syros, Ikaria and other islands).

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However, in all this product polyphony, the loudest presence is that of the small producers of Kalymnos who never cease to support the vision of Marianna and Petros firmly.

The women's cooperative "Kalymnos Seafood" adorns the shelves of the Alternative Grocer with their smoked fish, which are procured from local fishermen. White tuna, mackerel, octopus and, of course, swordfish roe are in great demand, as I learn.

"Even from Alaska, they have called us to order our products, and we have sent them with great pleasure," added Marianna emphatically.

The island supplies them with herbs from the mountains, honey, propolis and beeswax ointments, handmade soaps, sometimes citrus fruits (depending on the season) and cheeses (feta, graviera and crushed mizithra) from the local cheese factory.

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From a managerial position in a bank to the grocery store counter

The road where the grocery store is located leads, in addition to the island's main port, to another smaller port where, in the past, boats carrying products from other islands used to dock.

"We no longer find this on the island. My father did it in the 60s and 70s when he was involved in the sea trade. He had a boat and travelled from Alexandroupoli to Cyprus. But he also ploughed the whole Aegean, bringing potatoes from Naxos, and watermelons and tomatoes from Kos."

Later, abandoning the boat, Marianna's family concentrated on commerce, this time on land, with her mother (and earlier her grandmother) remaining behind the counter of their grocery store until she was 84 years old.

"My brother and I grew up there," Marianna remembers. "How could I escape from what once sprouted like a seed inside me and never stopped growing even when life led me to work for many years as a clerk (and then as a manager) in a bank branch here on the island?" she tells me.

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At the same time, she smiles as she remembers a conversation she had earlier with a colleague at the bank who cultivated and brought chickpeas and lentils from his village in Domoko with him to the island.

"When I build my dream shop, will you send me your beans?" I had asked him then, Marianna tells me. A few years later, her statement not only proved to be prophetic but now also brought a new culinary condition to the kitchens of the island, as many local cooks, as she tells me with a smile, "now cook lentils only when I have them available in the shop from the former my colleague and current partner. Otherwise...they wait!”.

Loukia Chrysovitsanou is a columnist for Olive Magazine.

READ MORE: Dive into Flavor: Exploring Greek Islands Through Gastronomy.

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