The Central Market of Riga is located within a short walk from the Old Town of the Baltic country and close to the main transport hubs. It is one of the largest markets of its kind in Europe attracting locals and tourists from the city and surrounding area.
Split into separate areas for meat, fish, dairy products, florists, vegetables and other goods which are located throughout. They are housed in large hangars which were originally used for the airships; zeppelins. They are not especially attractive, anonymous looking pale coloured concrete arches but they are perfect for purpose.
There are also plenty of stalls outside especially for vegetables and flowers and those seeking a bargain that are not too concerned about its source. The stallholders are not all professional merchants and some of the items on sale are probably straight out of the attics or garages of the locals. Apparently it is possible to buy just about anything unsurprisingly this includes very cheap cigarettes and vodka.
My companions were not too keen on browsing the meat market due to our guide describing how the carcasses hang just like in a slaughter house. If the opportunity arises later in the week I might take a peek out of curiousity.
The fish market turned out to be possibly more distressing however as although the some of the prized species are kept alive in aerated tanks other fish are left flapping on the cool counters. This may mean that they are fresher for the buyer but it is sad seeing them suffering in this manner. However commercial fishing boats merely throw their live catch into the hold so either way it is the same, just less pleasant actually witnessing them in the last throes of life.
The usual fishy suspects are on sale including salmon, trout, sardines and various flatfish but unlike most fishmongers in the United Kingdom there are many more varieties of freshwater fish available. Black sturgeon, pike, carp, eel and tench both dried and fresh were on sale along with somemore exotic fish products like lamprey and trout caviar.
The sturgeon is especially striking as it appears like a living fossil and wouldn’t be amiss on a natural history programme about prehistoric creatures. It is easy to imagine a sturgeon crawling out of the Carboniferous sea onto a brand new world. These are also the fish which are usually being kept alive in the tanks for the particularly discerning customer.
Latvia being located on the edge of the Baltic is a fish loving country and practical gentlemen will often present their lady friends with a bouquet of fish rather than flowers!
Prices vary and if wishing to make a purchase it is advisable to wait until past the first stalls as they are often the more expensive and a better price can be negotiated further in. Look for the smaller stalls selling locally produced and often homemade items rather than the factory stalls. The food products will taste much better and it is more likely to be possible to barter on a price especially if buying several products.
Not all the stallholders appear happy to see tourists, so don’t be surprised if the welcome is not always friendly. The Latvian people suffered a great deal during its recent occupations however and the older generation in particualr remains distrusting of outsiders. It is not really an issue however as in Riga and throughout the country, most people are very hospitable and the welcome is warm.
This is the same in the market tpo, as many of the merchants are pleased to explain their products and sell them to tourists. Some stallholders are happy to allow the buyer to taste their cheese, biscuits or other suitable items and this is why I will be travelling back with two jars of delicious local honey.
Our creatively mined guide Zane was very Bohemian in her outlook and enjoyed sharing any ‘alternative’ snippets of information and was also keen to express the healthy benefits of the fresh and organic produce on sale.
She also explained that presenting a dozen red roses to a Latvian would be a grave error as even numbers of flowers are reserved for funeral wreaths or garlands. A Latvian lady would be distinctly unimpressed if her bouquet did not contain an odd number of flowers.
There is also a night market and although the general public is able to attend most of the buyers are from the restaurants, shops or stalls of the day market. They buy in large quantities so the merchants of the night are generally wholesalers.
The market is open 9-5 each day and although other markets maybe slightly more vibrant and less subdued there is still plenty of colour and it is a fascinating place to browse for a few hours. If visiting Riga set aside a few hours to check it out and to impress one of the many beautiful women of the city remember to present her with a fish bouquet of 3 to 5 fish just to be certain!