In the heart of Thessaloniki, brothers Gabriel and Dimitris Karafoulidis continue the tradition of their father Iraklis and their older brother, Giannis, in the trade of fine nuts and legumes.
Iraklis Karafoulidis arrived in Greece in 1928 as a 16-year-old refugee from Sourmena in Pontus, following a long journey that went via Siberia. Alone, he traveled from Piraeus to Giannitsa, and then on to Thessaloniki, where he and a Serbian friend set up a stall and a small oven in Aristotelous Square, selling freshly roasted chickpeas. The whole process took five consecutive roastings, transforming them into delicious “kavourmas,” perfectly aromatic and light.
Together they roasted hazelnuts in the same way, using the old methods that Iraklis had learned as a young boy in Pontus.
Tough, tenacious, and impossibly frugal after years of deprivation, poverty and war, his hard work soon paid off. Iraklis managed to set up his first shop in the mid-1950s, with a small oven and four roasting trays, in the then Governor’s Market. There, he roasted pistachio nuts in their shells, hazelnuts, almonds, chickpeas, and seeds.
Iraklis soon gained a reputation throughout the city for his strong work ethic, cleanliness and honesty. He finally managed to set up a bigger shop on Olympou Street in 1965, where his business has remained ever since, with the same old wooden and glass showcases.
Here, Iraklis’ son, Gabriel, is the heart and soul of the shop. He knows in detail the characteristics of each nut, and how it behaves in different recipes and desserts, advising customers for years which fruit to consume and why. With a cheeky sleight of hand, he shovels them into the paper bag with the shop’s retro logo, and seals it with the flick of his wrists; no cellophane in sight.
In the company’s workshop in the old refugee neighborhood of Kordelio, the selected nuts from various parts of Greece and abroad are sorted, roasted in the traditional way, and salted by hand. Their famous roasted chickpeas hail from Turkey, from a special variety, and emerge from the oven aromatic, airy and perfectly scorched as “kavourmas” or “tsiftes” – a traditional technique that now only survives in this workshop and in the northwest Turkish city of Bursa. The light scorching gives the chickpeas tiny dark spots, tremendous taste and unparalleled “fluffiness.” The process? A three-minute roasting at 250°C in the copper-cast oven, and non-stop mixing with small reed brooms.
Kalamata’s famously large and meaty peanuts are ventilated for a certain time in the fresh air and then put into the oven for a long roast, taken out every few minutes to be stirred by hand, over and over again. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are likewise carefully loaded onto sieves and put into a large and temperamental sorting machine from the former East Germany, which requires constant stirring. The salting is first done in saline water and then by mixing with sea salt, all by hand – tasks undertaken by the workshop’s faithful assistant, Sakis Balaskas, who has been with company for 18 years.
All of this is what makes the dried fruits and nuts shop “Iraklis” famous in Thessaloniki, with its loyal customers for many decades.
This article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.
Iraklis’ nuts were awarded at the Gastronomos magazine’s 15th Quality Awards in December 2022 – an evening in honor of the culinary heritage of Asia Minor, and the producers and businesses run by the children and grandchildren of Asia Minor refugees.