Market Mania

Saturdays have been deemed “Market Day” – the day we trek down to the market to buy our groceries. I call it a trek, but it’s more of an adventure.

When I say “market” think of your local Farmer’s Market, but make the aisles much smaller and the crowd 3 times larger. Everything is in kilograms and labeled in a language of odd symbols; no one speaks English and we, of course, know very little Ukrainian (or Russian, Hungarian, Polish…or an odd mix of all – which are the predominant languages here). Our first few trips to the market resulted only in confusion and a deep feeling of shock. I think we did leave with some potatoes, onion, and carrots – Which we have eaten every single day since moving here! There are a few other vegetables, but either we don’t like them or I don’t know how to cook them. Overall, though, the fruit and vegetable selection is limited.

The smell is anything besides aromatic; in fact, it has the overwhelming power to make you lose your appetite. The air is thick with stale body odors, freshly butchered pigs, cows, fish, and chicken, and dust; throw in a little car exhaust and you have a wonderful recipe for nausea. You learn to not focus on the smell.

There are a few things you must have in order to succeed in a market trip…patience, determination & forcefulness, resourcefulness, and a bag.

Patience because it takes a bit of time to find what you need, and also to keep your cool when Ukrainians continually butt in front of you (sidenote: I have never seen a group of people more pushy in my life…if you do not stand right up against the person in front of you in line, others will walk up and just jump in front of you. And for a non-pushy person as myself, this is irritating and inconsiderate…but it’s a Ukrainian way, so I’m having to learn to be slightly aggressive with no personal space whatsoever). Be prepared to stand in long lines at the meat stands – but remember to stand against your predecessor’s back.

Determination & forcefulness– We do not own a car, so we cannot just drive 5 minutes down the road to pick up a full week’s worth of food. The walk is only 10 – 15 minutes. Not too bad…if it’s not raining, windy, cold, or snowing. Once there, you must be forceful in your shopping. Remember the pushy people? Sometimes you have to be pushy back – they don’t see it as rude, so neither should I…just smile while you do it! I’ve had to be a bit forceful towards some of the sellers as well. I understand that I’m American, and with that blessing comes a curse that people will try to get more money out of you because they think you’re rich and not knowledgeable about their prices. Some will jack up their prices or try to sell you more than what you want. Some of this may have to do with communication breakdown, but many use it for their advantage because they know we can’t argue. But, I’ve learned to say “NI” (no), and to show them what I want. Once you’ve bought all you need, it’s time to go home. Remember, however, that you walked there, which means you also walk back…with your hands full of whatever you buy. When bags get heavy, your fingers turn red and go numb. That’s when I repeat the mantra I learned as a child, “I think I can, I think I can.” Which leads to the next characteristic…

Resourcefullness – buy as little food as possible to last as long as possible. Which is why we’ve eaten the exact same foods (prepared the exact same way) for 3 weeks!

And lastly, you need to have a bag or several bags. Bags cost extra.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ukrainiac
    Apr 30, 2008 @ 17:48:29

    Boy, I remember learning the rule to buy only as much as you can carry! It does make for some interesting trips, though. Are there any regular stores in your area, or is everything at the outdoor rinok?

    (Coming through your neck of the woods again next week to attempt ONE MORE TIME to get our visas in Budapest!)


  2. RL
    May 16, 2008 @ 16:31:33

    Things seem bad now because nothing is in season. Wait until June, July and August, when all the fruit trees are dropping their fruit and you can buy a kilo of organic (everything there is organic) strawberries and cherries for 40 cents. You’ll gorge yourself on fresh produce. Then, when the harvest starts coming in in the fall, buy as much as you can and CAN IT! Learn how to can and you’ll have good produce all winter, because prices quadruple in winter.


  3. lmparks
    May 17, 2008 @ 11:17:43

    Yes, RL, I have been told that the berries here are incredible – and as I love berries of all kind, I can hardly wait! Thanks for the advice – I really need to learn how to can things – perhaps find me a friendly babusya who can teach me!


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