Olivity the Greek shop and restaurant at the Overtoom for your Greek coffee, olive oil, sweets and take-away. I had the great pleasure to talk with the owner Caterina and enjoy her Greek cooking.
As an Expat myself having my residence 9-10 months a year at Crete – Greece, back in Amsterdam, I always miss my Greek coffee’s in the morning. I’m a real Greek coffee junky having a 0,4ltr coffee-cup ready when I wake up and start my morning rituals. Boiling my coffee in a metal can with bottled water, two teaspoons fine grounded Greek coffee and a teaspoon sugar. It’s the art of using room temperature water when adding the coffee and sugar so the coffee dissolves directly in the water. When using too cold water the coffee stays floating on top of the water and doesn’t boil correctly and doesn’t give all it’s strong flavours to my coffee. With my super strong Greek coffee ready I start my day, reading my emails and orders, smoking a cigarette before I shower and walk my dogs.
Flying back to Amsterdam 4-5 times a year, I always bring in my trolly a pack of my favourite Greek coffee with me. And yes, I am still a Dutchy and take pindakaas, hagelslag and Nasikruiden back to Crete. Having visited cheesycakes two days ago and spoken with the fantastic Greek owner Spiros, he recommended me to visited Olivity from friend Caterina, who runs a Greek Deli and restaurant at the Overtoom. I take the tram from the centre to the Overtoom, today I need to buy Greek coffee, good olive oil, sweet pastries as dessert and main Greek dish for four people.
Walking down the Overtoom towards the Rijksmuseum, I find a very welcoming shop on my right-hand side with outside for me the so famous olive trees and a bench for a tea in the sun. Entering the shop you will have directly on your left-hand side the shelves with greek products. The shopkeeper welcomes me from behind the counter and tells me to look around, she is busy with other clients selling them Greek sweets. Quickly I find my desperately needed Greek coffee from my favourite brand Loumidis and a bottle good olive oil for my salads. I also find the glass vitrine fridge with the fresh homemade takeaways, I order 6 pieces mousaka and a box dolmades for tonight’s dinner. Next to the vitrine is a table with homemade sweets and I order one box baklava as dessert and homemade orange pie.
Yes, lucky me it’s snack time (its always snack time) and I pick the table at the window for the best view of the shop and the street outside. Caterina brings me a glass good Greek red wine and some Greek mese, I order from the menu Keftedakia, meatballs served with a dip, Greek salad and some fresh baked whole wheat bread. Caterina has time to talk with me and I ask her directly where in Greece she is from. I was born in Alexandroupoli, a town in the North of Greece, close to the Turkish border. It is next to the sea and is surrounded by olive groves. Whenever we would go on school trips, we would play under the olive trees, and in the autumn, when the first olives were picked, my father would bring bags of them at home, so that we would cure them in brine.
In front of the building is the shop in the second half you run a Greek restaurant, what are your specials? The menu includes daily specials, but also dishes prepared on the spot, such as wraps and omelettes, eggs are one of my favourite ingredients. All of them are Greek or inspired by Greek cuisine. There is always a soup of the day, meatballs with lemony and oven-baked potatoes, a chicken dish with rice, as well as a vegetarian/vegan dish. Besides that, there are weekends within the month, when other Greek favourites are served; there is a Tsoureki weekend every 2nd weekend of the month, and a Greek pie weekend every 4th weekend of the month.
My meatballs are served and they are served hot, while Greeks eat most medium warm, I m still a Dutchy and prefer my meat hot, so this is perfect, served with fresh bread and a garlic dip. How did you learn to be such a good cook? I started cooking since I was a kid, making simple things on the wood stove in our kitchen-living room. One of the first things I made was semolina halva, a sort of a semolina pudding, which is a Greek classic. As I was growing up, the dishes were becoming more elaborate, and I always enjoyed inviting people over, so that I would have the chance to try new recipes. And mama and Yaya did they taught you their secrets? Yes, my mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers (yup, I met two of them) would all cook for us. A lot of my recipes come from my mother but had to be standardized, since quantities are a bit more vague, the famous “as much as it takes” when it came to flour for the dough. And if you asked how much it would take, the answer would usually be: “Now… you will see it when it’s right”.
And after your primary school, directly to the cooking school to become a MasterChef? Growing up, things took a slightly different way: I studied to become a primary school teacher and, since I always loved languages, I studied a few and finally decided to combine my love for books and films with my love for languages; I worked as a literary translator, film subtitler and conference interpreter. I also wrote my own children’s books: nine of them can be found on Greek bookstores’ shelves.
When did you come to the Netherlands and why Amsterdam? It was April 2008, the Netherlands was an idea of a Dutch friend of mine. I was given a fair warning about the weather, but was also told that it’s a nice country to live, which I have to say is true. Amsterdam was because I didn’t know any other Dutch city anyway, so I thought the capital would be the place to live and build a life in the Netherlands.
What do you like about Amsterdam? Plenty of things: first of all, it’s a beautiful city, that has protected its architectural identity. Then, while it’s a capital, it’s not very big, so you can move easily within it, but then it’s big enough for interesting things to happen. It is fairly safe: you can cycle pretty much everywhere at any hour of the day or night, and you don’t feel threatened. Its neighbourhoods are quiet, so you wake up in the morning listening to the birds chirping. It’s well organized, and extremely well connected transportation-wise. And, I like Amsterdammers: their matter-of-fact way of dealing with things, their openness about most matters, the fact that they are usually curious about new things, instead of considering them an instant threat.
What are your favourite hangouts/places to go in Amsterdam? The OBA ( the main public library) at the Central Station is probably on top of my list: during my first couple of years here, I was practically living there! The Amsterdamse Bos, the perfect place to clear your head. Then, the Concertgebouw cafe, the College Hotel lounge, Lab111, De Groene Olifant, Coffee Room –to mention just a few.
What can the Amsterdam crowd learn from the Greeks? The joy of sitting around a table and enjoy a good meal for hours in a row: food is mostly considered fuel here, so most people are in a hurry to empty their plate and get done with their meal, instead of enjoying it –even if this means overdoing it sometimes.
What can the Greeks learn from Amsterdam? That what we consider not doable, actually is doable, not because other people are some rare tribe, but because they are more willing to get out of their way in order to get things done.
You opened a Dutch business was it a hassle to get all the paperwork done? If you have ever tried to deal with Greek bureaucracy, the Northern European way is a walk in the park! So, no hassle at all.
When did you decide to open a business for yourself in the Netherlands? While working as a translator and dividing my time between here and Greece (not as cool as I thought it would be, I must confess), the “aha moment” came: I wanted to start a business centred around olive oil! It would take three more years for the plan to be materialized. During that time, the market was explored, suppliers were found, costs were calculated, accountants were asked. And after a large translating project was completed, I decided that it would be the last: instead of looking for more translations, I would take the leap of faith and make that idea come true. The dream hadn’t faded in all that time, so this meant something, right?
The opening is easy, keeping it afloat in the first years is a bigger challenge: since rents are quite high, and there are all sorts of other expenses one has to deal with. But, hey, it’s been 6 years, and here I am, so it’s definitely doable!
Your shop is located at Overtoom 239, why this location in Amsterdam? I was looking for something in West, since it’s where I live, and I know the area better. The choice of location was a combination of what was available, the cost of what was available, where it was located, how much work/renovation it needed, and how I felt when entering that space. I viewed my store three times before I decided, but from the first moment, I liked its atmosphere. Plus, the Overtoom is a very well known street in Amsterdam, and the neighbourhood is great.
You organize also cooking workshops tell me something about it? Cooking workshops are a fun way to get to know the Greek cuisine and see how some of your favourite Greek dishes are prepared. The ones I am organizing, are bespoke, for groups of colleagues, neighbours or friends, and in all these years I’ve had team building ones, bachelorette parties, birthdays, couples’ night out, Meetup groups. The workshops last around 3 ½ hours, during which we prepare a three-course menu (selected from a series of choices I send to the participants), which we afterwards share around the table. It’s great fun, both for me and my sous-chefs!
You arrange catering also on location is it mostly Greeks who order, how is your clientele? I prepare and deliver catering, indeed, be it for private occasions or for office meals (lunches, “borrels”). A lot of my clients are Dutch and expats, but I also have Greek clients who miss their favourite dishes, and either order for themselves and their friends, or for their colleagues at the office.
What I love, is that my food brings them memories from their trips to Greece or (in the case of Greeks) their mother’s cooking -a great compliment, since our Mom’s cooking is carved in our memories since childhood.
22th of July it’s your store 6th birthday any specials in mind?
There will definitely be a lot of balloons, and definitely, some giveaways, as a huge thank you to the customers who have supported Olivity all these years. The rest is a surprise!
Walking home with two paper bags one filled with the Mousaka and sweets for tonight’s dinner with friends and the second my Greek coffee and olive oil. Olivity is for sure my new shop for Greek essentials and a good lunch or dinner with friends, when back in Amsterdam.
For our readers we have a giveaway from Olivity, Everybody who likes our Facebook page and shares the interview with Caterina and her amazing shop Olivity has a chance to win a €20,– gift voucher.