If, seven years ago, you told me I would someday work in a bakery in Greece, I would have said you were out of your mind. I liked to eat, but I didn’t want anything to do with creating food. Funny how things change! The point of my current travels now being to learn about food and agriculture around the world, I could not have been more excited to come across CouchSurfers with a bakery in a region I wanted to visit.
For more than a week, bakers Kostas and Anna entertained my 100 questions per minute, encouraged me to taste every creation after it came out of the oven (and some before it went in), and allowed me to believe I was “helping” in their bustling village bakery. I was completely useless in the front of the bakery, speaking no Greek, but behind the scenes, I was able to decorate gingerbread houses and tsoureki; take bread out of the oven; place pre-baked goods on trays; braid koulouria and roll them in sesame seeds; fill and roll the delicious, cheesy, twisty koulouria; cut dough; make sandwiches; and prep ingredients for cookies … sort of. I was removed from my duties more than once so that someone with more impressive dexterity could take over. At least my good humor and ability to entertain was an asset in the bakery.
What impressed me even more than the range of baked goods—every one more delicious than the one before—was the role the bakery played in the community. In the village of Zitsa, this was the social epicenter. Unlike in the U.S., fresh, real, wholesome bread is still a part of daily life in Europe. The bakery provided food staples, yes, but also an opportunity to connect with neighbors. Everyone who walked through the door was greeted by name, both by the people who worked there and their fellow customers.
After a somewhat-difficult 10 days traveling in Albania, a chance to play bakers’ helper and be a part of this community was just right. The baked goods weren’t bad, either! The bread made me smarter (this is an inside joke) and also made me realize that if I never eat another piece of mass-manufactured bread, it will be too soon. It’s time to meet my community’s bakers when I get home.
For a look at some of the tasty deliciousness I encountered during my time at the Greek bakery, read “In case you weren’t hungry.”