No visit to Riga, Latvia is complete without a visit to the sprawling Central Market, a melange of fresh foods and handmade goods that fills out not one, but five, “upcycled” German zeppelin hangars and bulges out onto the surrounding streets and waterfront. It is so substantial that it has been called Europe’s largest market and bazaar; I have no square-footage facts to back that up, but I have no real problem believing it after having seen it.
The Central Market sits near the bus station next to the Old Town, making it easily accessible to tourists, and even if you choose not to buy anything, it is absolutely worth a visit.
Outdoors, you can find much in the way of clothing and fabric items, along with various items including team wear, souvenirs, eyeglasses, and kitchen implements. There were also plenty of produce stands as well, full to bursting with persimmons, whose harvest time must have been in full swing.
The people-watching is first-rate too, since nearly everyone comes to the market from the surrounding city. And why not, since nearly anything is available to buy, mostly at very reasonable prices. Young, old, rich, poor, local, tourist, and everything in between all show up to the market.
However, some of the best people-watching involves the proprietors of various stands. Michelle and I nicknamed these lovely young ladies the “sauerkraut sisters” – they couldn’t sell enough of the stuff, and they had lines out the door. (Should I be skeptical that their kraut was really that much better than all the rest?)
Not everyone was so terribly busy, however.
I kid. I just caught her at a contemplative moment; she was actually quite happy and pleasant. I hope she doesn’t mind too much that I posted this.
In fact, most of the people in the Central Market were quite pleasant. At times, there were some communication gaps, but that’s part of what makes it interesting isn’t it?
The market itself may well have been one of the very first supermarkets in the world, too. Again, everything you can think of is probably for sale here. There is a hangar available for cheese, dairy, and milk; one for meats and sausages; one for clothing, souvenirs, and general merchandise; one for fruits and vegetables; and one for fish, that important staple of the Latvian diet.
I won’t lie and pretend that the fish hangar wasn’t …well, pungent. But the sheer variety from fresh to frozen to smoked was impressive. One local said that the typical Latvian dish was really split, smoked, and garlic-ed (is that a word?) fish. I suppose that’s better than the creepy eel and lamprey also for sale there.
One of the other benefits of the market was the liberal sampling policy. Indeed, the locals seemed to have no compunction about walking up to the stalls and grabbing what they wanted to try – a grape, a spoonful of sauerkraut, a pickle, whatever. Even if wasn’t something in easy grabbing-range, samples were on offer for just the asking, with little spoons and paper cups available for just that purpose. Not something you’d get at your local supermarket.
Riga was a lovely little city, and I do highly recommend that you check it out if you can. If you do go, make sure you visit the Central Market.