Greek life

Το Λαϊκή Αγορα

The laiki agora literally means “people’s market.” It is the farmers’ market that happens weekly in most neighborhoods around Athens. The laiki vendors sell fruit, vegetables, fish, eggs, olives, flowers, nuts … plus some household items like clothes line clips, laundry baskets, or mosquito battling supplies.

The Voula laiki happens on Thursdays.  The photo above is one I took in mid-March; just as the strawberries started to make their appearance.  ( I know! Strawberries in March! They were so fresh and ripe we could smell them as we walked by.) In the photos, you see tomatoes, asparagus, artichokes, pomegranate, persimmon, green beans — a mix of winter and spring produce. Greek food is local and seasonal, so the laiki won’t have things that are out of season … though we can get apples, bananas, cucumbers, oranges & greens all year long.  Tomatoes too, but truly the best ones are during the summer.img_8857

My first few times at laiki, I went (naturally) with Papou, who likes specific vendors for specific things. For example, the guy who sells the eggs Papou prefers also runs the souvlaki stand.  He may buy the eggs because of the souvlaki; I should ask.  In the supermarkets, eggs are €3-4 for six eggs.  At the laiki, eggs are fresh, fresh, fresh and €,20 each!

Last week, I was stoked to see summer fruit start to make an appearance.  First come the βερύκοκκο & φραολεσ (apricots & strawberries) and the πεπονι (melon — looks like honeydew, smells and tastes like canteloupe).  This week, I’m seeing cherries (κερασια) and watermelon (καρπουζι).  Which means the peaches (ροδακινα) and nectarines (νεκταρινια) are not far behind.  To Peter and me, peaches and nectarines define summer.  Then come the grapes (σταφυλια), the really good summer tomatoes (ντοματα), and … the figs (συκα).

There’s nothing like Greek watermelon.  In the summer, tavernas bring a big plate of sliced, cold watermelon after your meal.  It’s hard to describe how good it is.  Just what you want on a hot evening.

You have to remember to bring small euro notes and change to the laiki.  They will laugh you away if you hand them a €50 for €1,50 worth of something.  Last Thursday, I worried I didn’t have enough money for all the things on my list — I scraped together €15.  I had a buck leftover and was so weighed down I needed to readjust myself twice on the way back to the car.  I think my very favorite bargain is the herbs.  For €,50 each, you can get a huge (huge!) bunch of parsley (μανιταρια) or dill (ανηθοσ).  None of these little plastic boxes for $4 like in Denver.  For €,50, who cares if I don’t use it all before it goes bad.  (Papou taught me this trick.)

Prices change within the day.  We see higher prices in the morning, especially for things like fish. Prices –and where the item is from– are always written on cards or little chalkboards and also are announced verbally by the vendor.  The lowest prices seem to happen by mid-day, say 2 pm.  Last week, strawberries were almost half the original starting price.

The laiki is a social tradition; I see my neighbors at the laiki often.  Last week I followed Eva a bit just to see where she gets her things (she’s our downstairs neighbor who made the cake for the kids on the first day of school). Sometimes I see Labros from the 2nd floor or Mrs. Kastrioti from the 5th floor.  Sometimes Papou takes Mrs. K with him and they have a souvlaki together after they shop.

Athens has a big central market near Omonia square that is open every day of the week — there are permanent buildings that house it.  The buildings on one side of the street have meat and fish (including goat heads) and the other side is produce, olives, homemade wine and household items.   It’s cool to walk around in there and see it on your way back from say, the National Archaeological Museum.

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