A visit to the Greek International Food Market in West Roxbury is part culinary education, which is exactly what Katerina Iliades intends. “A lot of people come in here not knowing what Greek food is,” says the 25-year-old proprietor. “It’s an opportunity to learn about new items. I can show them around and teach them about other cultures.”
Those other cultures, she points out, aren’t limited to Greece. “We have imports from Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere,” says Iliades.
Among the things a customer might learn under Iliades’s tutelage at the three-year-old shop: that phyllo dough comes in varying thicknesses (the store carries several brands in numbers 4, 7, and 10); that commercial Greek yogurt can’t hold a candle to the creamy homemade version stocked here; that Attiki Greek honey, which some consider the world’s best, is produced by the oldest honey company in Greece; that mountain tea, used to treat a range of ailments, is found in nearly every Greek household; that feta cheese, made from sheep’s, goat’s, or cow’s milk, varies from crumbly to creamy, from sweet to salty; that marinated octopus is tender and delicious.
At this time of year, visitors will also take note of the special items in stock for Orthodox Easter, celebrated on May 5. There are special candles for children, decorated with toys and ribbons and flowers; Greek Easter bread; and, stacked in the freezer, foil-wrapped tubes of kokoretsi, a kind of coarse sausage on a skewer. Cooking a lamb outdoors on a spit is traditional for Easter, Iliades explains, and frugal Greek cooks have long made kokoretsi out of the internal organs. “It’s a delicacy, something everyone looks forward to after fasting [for Lent],” says Iliades. “People love this; they’ll drive very far to get it. We have 200, and they’ll all sell.”
The kokoretsi is made in New York, but the shop’s kitchen turns out a huge variety of freshly prepared foods, on display in well-stocked cases that line one side of the store. Stuffed cabbage, stuffed eggplant, moussaka, pastitsio, hummus, tzatziki, avocado salad, spicy feta dip, eggplant salad, and more — much more — are made fresh daily on the premises, following recipes created by Iliades’s father, Savvas. He has run Farm Grill & Rotisserie in Newton for many years, and Greek International offers many of the same specialties as the restaurant. “My dad is a very creative man, and he’s very passionate about cooking,” says Katerina Iliades.
Growing up, she was surrounded by good food: “My mom cooks, my dad cooks, my brother is a chef.” Holidays meant “a lot of food and family, music and dancing.” Iliades always had an entrepreneurial streak, nurtured by her college experience at Babson, and while still an undergraduate, she came up with a business plan for the store. “With the help of my father and his expertise, we were able to open this market.” She has run it from the beginning. Now a student in an evening MBA program at Boston University, the energetic Iliades juggles school and the store, using the shop as a laboratory for testing what she’s learning in the classroom.
The space was a simple, boxy warehouse before the Iliadeses took it over. After a complete gutting and expansion, it’s now light, bright, airy, and inviting. On a recent Thursday morning, customer Toula Nacapoulos of Taunton was visiting the shop for the first time, picking up supplies for an Easter dessert she planned to make. Nacapoulos was pleased with the selection of groceries. “It reminds you of Greece.” Shopper Kate Devlin, a regular, raved about the quality of the prepared foods — and the warmth of the welcome. “They’re so friendly, and they give you so many samples to try.”
Those nibbles, helpful signs around the store, and guiding customers through the stock are part of Iliades’s plan to emphasize what she calls the “educational component” of the shop. Says Iliades, “We have a lot of people that come and just roam and enjoy that atmosphere and the environment. It’s more of a community center, I always say, than a grocery store.”
Greek International Food
Market 5204 Washington St., West Roxbury, 617-553-8038, www.greekintlmarket.com.
Jane Dornbusch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.