on October 9, 2007
Riga has one of the most instantly-recognisable markets in Europe. Just to the south-east of the old town, under the railway line and beyond the bus depot you cannot fail to see five large glass-fronted buildings, each the shape of a Roses caramel keg. This is the central market. It's very appearance is historic. The domed halls were originally hangars for zeppelins, built during the first world war near Liepaja on the coast by the Germans. They were relocated to Riga following independence, given a bit of a spritz, and have held the main market through liberty, war, Cold War, and liberty once more. The market is interesting on a purely touristic basis. Here you can see the entire spectrum of Rigan life as they go about their shopping. Butchers hang animal carcasses, fishmongers display their glistening catch, bakers sell a full range of bread from baguettes to Russian-style black bread, from floury batches to pastries and cakes. There are confectioners, minimarts (and a larger Maxima supermarket) and clothing stalls, all crammed into this heaving space. Obviously, it is busier in the morning, with the crowds and stalls packing up in the afternoon. It is a convenient place to pick up cheap essentials if travelling, from toothpaste to a new watch, from a box of tea to some fresh fruit. You can also eat extremely cheaply here. Don't expect English signs or conversation, but if you are feeling brave playing 'point and eat' can have real rewards. I ended up having a piping hot chicken and potato pastry for a fraction of a Lat, followed with a slice of oozing gateau from a neighbouring stand. The cheapest meal in Riga? Quite possibly. You can also buy presents for those back home - beers or spirits, or maybe Laima chocolate. My bet though would be to go for the ladies selling jars of fresh golden honey, often with a chunk of honeycomb suspended within. If you pay any attention at all they will generally wave you over for a taster. This honey is sweet and gloopy, and better than anything i have ever bought from a supermarket. Moreover it is so cheap compared to British prices it seems insulting not to buy any.
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