Latvians love a market. I’m not talking the well-known Riga Central Market here (although that counts for something, and it is pretty special). I’m talking about smaller farmers or local product markets.
It often feels like when a space frees up in Latvia, the authorities come along and have a discussion. “Do you think we could get a market in here?” “Yeah, probably. I think a few stalls at least.” “OK let’s do it”.
I appreciate a market, and the culture surrounding buying local and locally made products, but coming from Edinburgh, where you were lucky if you could get down to the weekly market before it closed for the afternoon, it all seems like there is often an over-abundance of stalls to peruse in Latvia.
I have come to realise that these markets often have the same type of stalls. You can spot them next time you find yourself in one.
There’s definitely no shortage of honey (medus) in Latvia. Honey, pollen, wax, and every combination of these three things can be found at these stalls. I think if the bees knew, they’d be charging commission.
Big dark dense bread. Rye bread. Bread that you could kill someone with. We’re not talking foamy white British nonsense-bread, we’re talking bread so dense that you need a miniature chainsaw to slice your loaf.
Latvia is currently 42% forests, and the way you see people carving and selling wooden products, you’d expect that number to be going down. It’s not. During the last 70 years this percentage has actually grown from 24.7% back in 1923. Still, that means we’ll be seeing wooden products for years to come. Spoons, forks, knives, spatulas, chopping boards and every other utensil. Made of wood.
No market would be complete without somebody selling bowls. Clay bowls with colourful glazed interiors. As delightfully tacky as they are practical.
Yes, there’s loads of amber (dzintars) in Latvia. You know the stuff that has the insects in it from the film Jurassic Park, except in Latvia, it’s not got insects in it. It’s been fashioned into jewellery and other such items. Not an insect in sight.
Knitted mittens, hats and bootees
Latvian winter can be harsh. Temperatures below -30 degrees are what the locals like to threaten new visitors with, and as we approach what could be one of the coldest winters on record in 2013 (according to the predictions) I’m fully prepared to admit that those knitted goods sound quite appropriate.
Upon asking Lelde “what’s that lady selling?” I was given the response, “you know that stuff at the bottom of a pond?” – so it seems there is no part of nature that Latvians can’t or won’t make use of, even the swamp sludge, or the gunk from the bottom of your pond. Apparently it makes a lovely face mask, or soap product.
A visit to any Latvian market worth its chips should result in seeing at least one, if not all of the above stalls. You could play yourself a bit of “Latvian Market Bingo”. See how many you spot next time.