The best food markets in Syros - Citimarks

Cosmopolitan Queen

Rose water bottles displayed in food store
the view of Syros town from its shipyard


chapter 1

A buzzing trade center

In the morning we reached Syra. When seen from the harbor, Syra looks a lot like a smaller-sized Algiers. […] A great number of vessels of all shapes and sizes brought their black sails against the town’s white houses and crowded along the edge; canoes came and went with joyful passion: water, earth, sky, everything was overflowing with light; […] Boats were heading towards our vessel with the forceful use of rows, forming a regatta of which we were the focal point.

Soon the deck was filled with a crowd of big strong lads with tanned skin, hooked noses, flaming eyes, and ferocious mustaches who offered us their services as if they were asking “your money or your life!” […]

The quay is lined with shops of all kinds: fishmongers, butchers, confectioners, cafés, restaurants, taverns, tobacco shops etc. forming a lively picture. There’s a perpetual swarm of a colorful world of sailors, porters, buyers and curious people from all countries and all costumes.

We can almost touch the boats from the shore, and the shore coexists with the sea in the most intimate familiarity. Nothing is more fun and more picturesque […].

Worn-out from all the noise, we looked for a place to rest, and headed to a café equipped with reclining chairs outside -as people in Syros spend their time outdoors. We were served lemon gelatos, largely superior to the ones at Tortoni and equally delicious as the ones served at the Bolsa café in Madrid. […]

When we had sufficiently contemplated this admirable spectacle, we let ourselves roll in an avalanche down to the city, and ended our evening at a dance floor al fresco, overlooking the sea, smoking cigarettes and sipping on a glass of lemonade, while listening to a band of Hungarian musicians performing extracts from Italian operas.

A few women, dressed in French style, were walking along the embankment with their husband or fiancé, past a plethora of tables and chairs; on the latter one couldn’t miss the fustanelle (note: a traditional pleated skirt-like garment) of the lads who were drinking coffee, or making bubbles in their hookah.

In front of us, the sea was glowing by the ships’ lanterns; behind us, the lights of Syra scattered the purple mountain with golden specks. It was lovely.

Théophile Gautier,
Constantinople, Michel Lévy, 1853.
the fish market, Syros island, Greece
A cup of Greek coffee and a book
people sitting at a café in Syros island, Greece
the grocery market in Syros island, Greece
chapter 2

Young, cosmopolitan and restless

Syros is one of the most important trade centers of free Greece, and its population is a melting pot. A real panhellenic mosaic, where one could meet a person originating from Acarnania (note: a region in west-central Greece), next to a former citizen of Constantinople, next to a fellow from Tripolis (note: a city in the Peloponnese peninsula), another one from the Ionian Islands or Chios […]

Γεώργιος Ι. Μαζαράκης,
Τριών μηνών αναμνήσεις, 1885 in Μάνος Ελευθερίου, Η Σύρος στη Λογοτεχνία, Μεταίχμιο, 2003.

We feel that we are in the middle of a burgeoning civilization, a young civilization, that of a people who know that the future belongs to them. […]

Everywhere (there are people) working, struggling and striving to achieve their goals. […] They have faith: not the inert faith of a fatalist who waits for fortune to come to him; but the lively faith of someone who doesn’t ignore the fact that the mountain never goes to Mohammad, and who depends only on himself […].

Joseph Reinach,
Voyage en Orient, Charpentier, 1879, in Hervé Duchêne, Le voyage en Grèce : Du Moyen-Age au XXème siècle, Robert Laffont, 2003.
Certificates of citizenship of Greek immigrants settling in Syros island, Greece.

Certificates of citizenship were provided to Greek immigrants who fled the burning of Smyrna (today’s Izmir) in 1922 to become citizens of Syros. Photo taken at the Industrial museum of Ermoupoli, Syros.

Framed picture of a family of Greek immigrants from Smyrna.

Framed picture of a family of immigrants. The population of Syros was formed by generations of immigrants fleeing conflicts or pogroms, from 1820 to 1950. Photo taken at the Industrial museum of Ermoupoli, Syros.

Payment receipt of Nikolaos Valmas' paintshop

In the 19th century, payment receipts were designed as artfully as the products themselves. This is an old receipt of Nikolaos Valmas’ paintshop. Photo taken at the Industrial Museum of Ermoupoli, Syros.

Enfield E8000 battery-electric city car in Ermoupoli harbor, Syros island, Greece.

Enfield E8000, a battery-electric city car entirely produced in Syros. The car was considered an industrial breakthrough of the ‘70s, in a country with no prior history in automobile construction. Designers and engineers worked on wooden molds made by carpenters of the nearby shipyard. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

chapter 3

An elegant shopping walk

Four months before leaving the island forever, Mr. Pinas decided to take some time off and stroll about; he thought of visiting the store of the famous photographer George Pangiopoulos. He could consult him about what he and his wife should wear to get the best pictures they had ever taken. […]

Mr. Pinas arrived at the end of the uphill street. Here, the noise of the city stops abruptly. He had reached the borders of another world. At the corner, there was the pastry shop of Efstathios Kounavis, baker of the famous cookies from Smyrna (note: today’s city of Izmir, Turkey): they smelled of rosewater and burned sesame. An entire island used to buy its candy there for weddings, christenings, funerals and other types of ritual food.

Candies in candy store, Syros island, Greece

Candies in jar, candystore in Syros island, Greece

Next door was the fashion house of Nikiforos Neochiritis with a window display featuring two boned male mannequins and some faded Parisian fashion journals. On the shelves of the store, the most refined English fabrics, – wrapped with care in blue cloth to protect them from discoloring and dusting, and with small bags filled with lavender for the moth -, were waiting for enthusiastic patrons.

Third in line was the store of Eliza Valvi. Here, every day, apprentice dressmakers were working on the latest samples of fabric and buttons sewed over a colored piece of paper, with their price tags pinched on. Besides Elisa, four other girls were working there, making belts, buckles, pink and light blue clothes for babies and mostly hats, under the vigilant eye of Mrs. Fervonia Vaka, Elisa’s older sister.

Together with their third sister, Aspasia, and her son in law, they travelled almost every twenty months in Europe. From there, they would bring laces for wedding gowns, silk scarves and socks, silver candy boxes for weddings, flowers made out of paper, velvet, brocade, felt for the women’s hats, ribbon and piping for the dresses, bottles with detergent for cleaning the silks, big brooches for fixing hats on the hair […]. Their window display, surely the most beautiful in town, was featuring a beautiful bride wrapped in organza and lace, standing on a carpet of enamel flowers.

Ladies' 19th-century lingerie, Syros island, Greece

Pair of gloves and grooming case, Syros island, Greece.

Next in line was the perfume store of Isidoros Malatestas. A slim, solitary, poorly-traveled, and always elderly-looking gentleman nestled deeply in some dark, humid basement of the city. He was always wearing the same black suit with the thinnest white stripe and a bow-tie with a pearly white collar.

The street always smelled of lemon and rosewater: the perfumer would not let anyone pass by the store, whether he knew them or not, without inviting them to drip one or two refreshing drops on their palms.

At the back of the store, there was the laboratory with huge, shiny brass cauldrons and ovens that perfumed the atmosphere with their smoke […]. His nephew […] was sticking carefully multicolored tags with beautiful gold print on elaborate crystal and glass bottles […], then placing them in special boxes to be shipped across the country.

Next, there was the candy store of Evdokimos Pregkas, famous for his candies, their original designs, their colors, and of course, their taste. Twice a year he made spoon sweets (note: fruit-based sweet preserves, served in a spoon as a gesture of hospitality) out of grapes, quince and aubergine. He disliked arguments and did not care to bargain. If a client manifested the smallest hesitation or sneer because of a high price, he was capable of withdrawing the products immediately.

Μάνος Ελευθερίου, 
Ο καιρός των χρυσανθέμων, Μεταίχμιο, 2004.
Cheese and jams at Prekas traditional foodstore, Syros island, Greece
Grounded Greek coffee bags in Prekas traditional foodstore, Syros island, Greece
Bottles of wine at Kritsinis wine store, Syros island, Greece
Prekas traditional food store at Syros island, Greece.

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