A day at the market

  • 2009-03-11
  • By Monika Hanley

RIGA - Where else in Riga can you find live wriggling eels, 10 lat boots and farm fresh cheese in one convenient, albeit scrappy, location? Riga's Central Market, of course, is high on the list of both petty crime hotspots and tourist locations.
Formerly World War I zeppelin hangars, the five towering buildings are now home to Europe's largest market and have become a symbol of Riga. 

Connected by underground tunnels, each of the five hangars showcase a different type of product. The first pavilion is for meat products, the second for dairy and cheese, the third for bread and produce, the fourth solely for fish and the fifth hanger is for bread and baked products.
Originally just for meat trade, the market evolved during the inter-war period to accommodate the growing population. Now it is possible to buy pretty much anything the heart desires. The market really is the best place for fresh produce, dairy, bread, fish and meats. Most of the salesmen work for or own farms where they get their products.

Honey is plentiful in the market, with tiny stands that keep prices down and still maintain the freshest products.
When an item is in season the market contains the most variety in the city. In late summer, during mushroom season, it is possible to find celebrity chefs and locals alike buying up chanterelles and porcini mushrooms.
Located just behind the bus station on the banks of the Daugava River, the Central Market is a great early morning or afternoon delight. It is not even necessary to bring any money. Most of the vendors are more than happy to ask customers to sample this apple, that type of honey or a certain kind of smoked herring. A full stomach can sometimes be achieved free of charge in a 30 minute market excursion. 

Though some vendors may say their sales have been affected by the recent financial crisis, the fish and seafood vendors will say that there is no difference whatsoever. Latvia, as a fish eating and exporting country, can rest safely knowing that no matter what troubled times may come there are always opportunities for work at the fish market.

In the beginning, farmers could come to the market to sell their goods as individuals, but during Soviet times only state-owned collective farms were permitted to sell their goods. Independent farmers could still sell their goods outside in little stalls, however, which historians say helped transform the market into a thing of pride.
Pickpocketing can be avoided through a bit of common sense 's one should keep their hand on their purse at all times. More police have recently been patrolling the area, so the atmosphere feels a bit safer.