The green market in Greece – laiki agora – Part 1
In ancient Greek cities, an ‘agora’ was an open space serving as an assembly area and a place for commercial, civic, social, and religious activities. You would find the agora in the middle of the city or near the harbor. Public buildings, shops, and stoas for protection from sun and bad weather enclosed it. Nowadays, the green market, or ‘laiki’ in Greek, is a weekly event on a set day of the week in each neighborhood. Merchants and farmers from all over the region and beyond arrive very early in the morning to set up their stalls and arrange their produce. It is a feast for the eye, especially in summertime. The market is full of life, and what initially seems a cacophony slowly turns into the chanting and chatter of vendors and locals alike. The vibrant colors guarantee your Instagram photos will not need any filters!
Join us on a visit to the green market!
Vegetables – the heavenly fragrance and taste
The Greek diet dictates that you shall only use seasonal produce and that rule is no limitation at all. One of the main ingredients in traditional Greek food is the tomato. There is an abundance of tomatoes and you can detect them from a distance: yes, summer has a fragrance! Tomatoes can be bought in different sizes; either small, round cherry tomatoes that you eat one after the other as if you are eating candy. They can be slightly bigger for the traditional horiatiki salad. You buy huge, very ripe ones if you want to stuff them. And then there are also the not so round, yet longer tomatoes that housewives use to make homemade tomato sauce. And so far we have only mentioned tomatoes!
Simple ingredients, delicious results
Another beloved vegetable is zucchini, or kolokithaki, for salads or stuffed with rice and minced meat, covered with an egg lemon sauce. And have you ever tried zucchini patties with tzatziki? Eggplants for imam bayildi, a delicious dish from the Ottoman cuisine that has left its footprint in the Greek kitchen. Let’s not forget eggplant salad, with lots of garlic and parsley! Cucumbers for salads or tzatziki or …to soothe the skin after a sunburn!
There are many vendors who specialize in leafy greens for salads or pies. Pies are very popular with adults and children alike, either as a substitute for breakfast or as a snack and they are a returning weekly dish. Every self-respecting cook makes his own pies with a variety of greens, dill, feta cheese and spring onions. Since we are talking about onions: would you like fresh spring onions, red onions, white onions… or pearl onions for your Sunday beef stew? Have you seen how neatly they stack the potatoes? And green beans, so yummy in tomato sauce!
You shouldn’t forget some peppers, either for a salad or the long, red ones to grill and cover with oil, vinegar and a bit of sugar. Now, that’s a lovely meze to accompany a shot of tsipouro, Greece’s popular distilled drink beside ouzo. (If you visit the market in wintertime, it is highly likely that a vendor offers you some homemade tsipouro in order to stay warm. At 9 am. It works.)
Fruits – the juicy and tasty treats
In spring, strawberries signal the beginning of the juicy season, followed by cherries, melons, peaches, nectarines and apricots. There is always a vendor at the green market supporting his claim that he is selling the best and juiciest fruit by cutting some melon right in front of you and they will not take ‘no’ for an answer! They will give you advice on how to pick the best watermelon; what details do you have to pay attention to? By the way, here in Greece you buy the whole watermelon, not a single slice!
At the green market you can indulge without guilt!
At the end of August, the famous sultana grapes become available and it is the moment that everybody has been waiting for. The secret lies in the color and size of the grapes: small and slightly yellow is our advice! These seedless little grapes are oh so juicy and sweet that it is hard not to like them. When you go to the beach, it is very likely you will come across some Greeks who have stuffed some plastic boxes with this healthy snack. Did you know that these sultana grapes are the ingredients for the famous spoon sweet? Also, figs become available and if you combine them with some graviera cheese and chilled white wine, you will definitely have a wonderful evening!
Oranges are available all year round and their weight justifies the purchase of one of those handy trolleys: maybe you will need to walk home and come back for a refill! Quinces, lemons, mandarins and pomegranates are other fruits that give the market its vibrant color.
As you can see a Greek green market is full of delicious fresh food! Stay tuned to discover what else a Greek laiki agora has to offer!
Have you ever visited a green market in Greece? What were your experiences?