Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Open Air Markets

Let our family officially go on record as Loving Open Air Markets. When we lived in Vienna, at least twice a week we'd go to Naschmarkt, which is a mile-long one not too far from the music district. We'd strap on our backpacks (my then-10-and-6 year olds were my little pack horses for the goods) and no matter what the weather, have fun seeing what was new that day. Turks brought fruit and sweets from their country (we had real Turkish delight more than once, to the delight of my children to whom I was reading the Chronicles of Narnia), there were live fish swimming around in tanks, huge tables piles with cheeses, and a special little store that was the only one in which I could find real corn meal for corn bread. Most of the booths were owned and run by foreigners (to Austria, that is), businesslike and gruffly kind. And they weren't terribly hung-up on cleanliness, either. I vividly remember one grizzled meat merchant who handled a cut of meat with his bare hands and took my money with the same hand. He'd been doing that all day, and this wasn't a place with clean washrooms handy by. I took that piece of meat home and boiled the hell out of it.

Anyway, we love these places, and I make a point of trying to mingle in them wherever we go. Here's a small one in the old town in Amsterdam:

Far better, though, is the Green Market in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Strictly speaking, it isn't an open air market, individual vendors each with their wares, competing with one another for quality and price. There isn't much you can't buy there-- anything from socks to sweets, they've got it. The meat vendors and fruit tables are the best though-- and the dried fruit/nut/spice guys too:

Look closely at the meat items being offered for sale. One of them you're not likely to find anywhere in the US!

If US markets were more like this, shopping would definitely be one of the high points of my week. Look at this fruit stand! The berries, they said, were from Uzbekistan, to the south, but we had doubts. It isn't berry season. But who knows-- these are clever people. The name "Almaty" literally means "big apple". Surrounding the city there are (or used to be, at least) apple orchard producing apples of a truly gigantic size-- as big as large grapefruit. I didn't see any though, unfortunately.

I didn't take any pictures of it, but we also visited a ZUM, which is a classic leftover from Soviet days, boringly described as a department store, except for the fact that there's alot more available now than at that time. The ZUM is like the Green Market, except it's for non-food items-- and a busy place it is too. The first floor is given over to electronics vendors, and there are several more floors where you can buy everything from carpets from Bishkek to crystal from Bavaria. There are alo places to get native goods, such as thick felted wool hats embroidered with Kazakh motifs. We bought a couple for the kids. If ever you have a chance to visit a ZUM, go for it.


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