Conveniently located right by the train station and international bus terminal, the colourful Central Market in Riga, Latvia, is housed in 5 gigantic Zeppelin hangars, and all the sidewalks and side streets all around and in between.
Like the other large markets we visited in Central and Eastern Europe this past August (such as Dolac Market in Zagreb, Croatia, and Stary Kleparz Market in Krakow, Poland), there was a wealth of local and seasonal produce on display by large traders and small home-producers alike.
Its clients too were equally mixed, between leathery babushka-ed housewives with old-school wicker baskets, and a peppering of younger Latvians like this leggy brunette on the right.
The mood among the vendors here, however, swung more widely than at other markets. Several fruit and vegetable sellers shoved samples at us regardless of whether we were buying, while a few dour lady butchers in their token hair-bands (think doily tiaras rather than proper hairnets) waved me away upon seeing my camera.
No matter. It was all rich pickings for a pocket-friendly picnic lunch by the river (and as it turns out, breakfast the next day as well).
Yes please to some very pretty aboli -- a kind of minature apricot as far as I could tell. No thank you to some not-so-pretty bull's ballies.
Yes please to some house-soused pickles. This lovely lady cut us a wedge from every jar at her stall to try before she let us pick what we wanted. Turns out I like 'em half-pickled and Babs likes 'em fully pickled, but we're both fans of generous use of dill and garlic.
Like shooting fish in a barrel, so they say.
We pick up a couple of smoked mackeral fillets, a little bag of seaweed salad (at least I think that's what it was) and this amusing short loaf of "boomerang bread" to make a couple of hefty sandwiches.
Wash down with a cup of kvass, preferably bought on tap from a barrel in the back of a truck! Kvass --the Slavic fast-food drink of choice since ancient times -- is made from a fermentation of bread made from wheat, rye, or barley, and sometimes flavoured with fruit, berries, raisins or birch sap.
According to Wikipedia, kvass was first mentioned in Russia over a thousand years ago, and has always been a popular drink with the working class and the clergy. Right after the fall of communism in the early the likes of Coca Cola swept into the market. In the late 90s however, a huge kvass revival emerged, partly fuelled by regional patriotism and anti cola-nisation, knocking back Coke's market share in Latvia by some 20 percentage points!
Kvass appeals without any need for patriotism, really. It has a sweet malty yet refreshing taste that hasn't yet crossed over into booze territory. I'd like to say it tastes a bit like flat root beer or saspirilla, but have decided it's a taste unto itself. Maybe those of you out there who have tried it can suggest a better description or comparison!
I fall into a fun old picnic habit: sharing the last of my sandwich with the local duckies, and then looking around, half-jokingly wondering if anyone would notice if I bagged one or two for dinner. I feel yet another Goldmine craving coming on...