The Λαϊκή (The Market)

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Every day in Athens, there’s a street market somewhere. Every neighborhood (γειτονιά) has one, always on the same day of the week. My neighborhood, Vyronas (Byron) and the neighborhood of Pangrati have one every Friday. As you can see from the photographs, there’s much on offer. If you walk up from Plateia Varnavas for a few blocks, you’ll see all sorts of things on sale, from clothes to household goods to vegetables, fish, flowers, and spices.

I’ll head up the street with €20 in my pocket and more in my purse, if I need it. I’ll start from Πλατεία Βαρναβα (Plateia Varnava) and head up Κρισιλα (Krisila). Usually by the time I have walked the few blocks up to Ευφρανορος (Effranoros), I have several bags of fresh vegetables.

Tomatoes are always luscious and ready to eat. Now I notice that it’s possible to buy cherry tomatoes as well as regular ones. Eggplants, zucchini, onions — you name it. You’ll find it. Fruit is seasonal — almost always oranges all summer, and watermelons and cantaloupe. Sometimes a vendor gets artistic and carves a watermelon into shapes. Cherries and strawberries and apricots appear for shorter periods of time. It’s difficult to pass things up sometimes. Especially because you can taste everything first. RIght now, my mouth is watering as I remember sweet fresh watermelon.

But always I look for the olive guy. He has at least six different offerings, maybe more. Kalamata olives, big and fat and purply. Brine cured olives. Oil cured olives, wrinkly and with a bite. Olives stuffed with pimentos. Olives stuffed with small peppers. I always look for the olive guy.

Eggs? Yes, often. And you can buy a single egg if you want. Potatoes. Greens. Spinach. Lettuce. Cucumbers. Fresh fish.

It’s hard to keep track of everything. From 8 a.m. or so until about 2 or 3 p.m., you can wander up and down. By the end of the shopping afternoon, the stalls are emptying out. Lots of litter lines the street. Some vendors have sold out. It’s a good time for bargains then.

Off one small side street you can find flowers and plants. I’ve bought small basil plants there before — it’s always good luck to have a basil plant in your house. Or on your balcony.

And it’s lively, too. I play dodge-the-yiayia (the grandmother) with all the little old ladies who are wielding their shopping baskets (sometimes cloth, sometimes metal). It’s easy to get hit, to bump into someone. In fact, it’s nearly impossible notto run into someone.

Voices soft and loud, and louder cascade in your ears. Vendors yell out their offerings. Shoppers visit with each other, query the vendors.

In winter, there are fewer items on offer, but it’s just as lively. Colder, perhaps, with breath clouding up as you talk and walk.

Somewhere, I’ll stop at a bakery and get a freshly baked loaf of bread.

I usually end up on Effranoros Street, take a right, and walk a couple of blocks to my favorite cafe,
Cafe Libre. It’s right across from Profitias Ilias church. I’ll have a diet Coke and ice water in summer, or cappuccino or Greek coffee in winter. Maybe I’ll grab a sandwich if I’m hungry.

This is seasonal shopping, and if you cook what’s fresh and available, you have a wealth of choices in spring and summer, fewer in winter. Now, though, with supermarkets and frozen foods, Greeks have a larger choice year round.

When I’m back in the U.S., it usually takes me a few weeks to stop shopping as though I have to buy only what I can carry from the grocery store home. I forget that I have a car.

Here in Lake Charles, I have a farmer’s market on Saturdays and on Tuesday afternoons. My personal garden (my dad’s garden) no longer exists, so I can’t rely on Dad for a spring, summer, or fall garden to provide for me.

Since I tend to have a black thumb (not a green one), I’ll start going to the farmer’s markets more. Maybe I’ll try my hand at some fall tomatoes. I’m even considering some container gardening.

But nothing will match my Athens laiki day. I’ll just look at the photos and videos and remember Friday shopping ventures there, at least until my next trip to Athens.

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