One of the things I enjoy the most about living in Macedonia is the ease of access to locally grown, fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables. When we lived in DC, visiting the farmer’s market was never really intended to be a shopping trip; we would go to Eastern Market and wander around for a couple of hours, tasting free samples and browsing the flea market stands, but rarely buying much of anything. I don’t doubt that the vendors deserved what they were charging, it was simply out of our price range. Here, for about 400 denars or $8, we return home loaded down with a week’s worth of produce for breakfast and snacks. Also, “local” in DC includes farms hundreds of miles away in Pennsylvania and Virginia, sometimes as far as New York. Aside from a few things like oranges that are brought in from Greece, most of what we find in the market comes from nearby farms.
In Sveti Nikole, our пазар (pazar, or outdoor market) day is Saturday, although there are a few stands that are open throughout the week. Every town holds their market on a specific day (or multiple days in larger cities) to accommodate the schedules of farmers who can rotate between markets on different days of the week. The пазар isn’t just a farmer’s market, though; you can find just about anything you need, from clothes to household goods, somewhere along the crowded aisles. Now that we’ve lived here for seven months (!) we’ve found a few stands that we like and visit every week for our produce. While you can always find the staples, like cabbage and carrots and peppers, a lot of what the vendors carry is seasonal. For a few weeks, we had amazingly ripe and juicy strawberries; then came the cherries, and most recently apricots and peaches. You can also find fresh eggs, honey, handpicked dried herbs for tea, and homemade vinegars among the produce stands.
Aside from shopping, пазар day is great for people watching. Women and men of all ages move from one stand to the next inspecting what’s for sale, talking with the sellers and filling their shopping bags with what they need for the week ahead. Old men gather in groups by the road just outside of the market entrance to share news. Younger people fill the coffee shops in the center, and kids run around dodging the crowds with their friends. It’s pretty much assured that we’ll run into people we know while we’re out doing our shopping.
One of the more frustrating things about the пазар is the insistence of most vendors on giving your items to you in a plastic bag. We have two reusable shopping bags we take with us, but even when we tell people up front that we don’t need a plastic bag and show them that we have our own, they just smile and shrug, pretend they didn’t hear us, and bag our vegetables anyway. For some things, like tomatoes and peaches that would otherwise roll around and get squashed, I do get bags; we reuse them at home as our trash bags, so it’s not a complete waste. But for heartier items like peppers and cucumbers, it’s just unnecessary. Years of bag fees and looks of shame from fellow shoppers in DC has given me a knee-jerk anxious reaction against using plastic bags, but reusable bags as a substitute just haven’t caught on here yet.
This week was the first official week of summer, and tomatoes are starting to dominate the market. In addition to being delicious, they’re also incredibly cheap (30 denars per kilo, or about 25 US cents per pound) so we picked up a bunch and I made gazpacho today. Along with the summer fruits and vegetables has come summer weather (it’s been close to 100 all week!) so it was a refreshing alternative that didn’t involve turning the stove on at all. After dinner I took a walk so I could take pictures of the sunflower fields near our house that are just starting to bloom.