I have to say I’ve wanted to make a post about bazaars for a while now because it was such a weird experience for me the first time I visited one. It was actually this time last year, for Easter, when I first ventured to Gldaani Bazaar (one of the districts in Tbilisi) and was amazed by it.
That being said, since living here I don’t enjoy them so much. They’re pretty smelly and stressful, but always intriguing in their own way.
There’s plenty of pictures coming, so get cosy!
As soon as you step off the marshrutka, you’re greeted with people – mostly old ladies – shouting their products and prices as loudly as possible. It always reminds me of London.
The streets are packed, so you’ll be lead somewhat blindly by the hand through the crowd to some wobbly stairs, packed with everything from malt biscuits to live rabbits.
As soon as you reach the top of the stairs you’ll be greeted with various smells. Mostly veg, sometimes cheese, and if you’re lucky, rain.
There’s no particular order to anything, but as you walk through you can see how there’s generally fruit and veg on one side, and animal products on the other.
Typical Georgian cheese is usually quite salty, with a moist, springy texture. I can’t say I’m a fan but I’m not so big on cheese anyway… I saw this being made when in Imereti last summer. The milk from the cows in the garden was boiled then what seems to be a pig stomach is mixed with it to curdle the cheese, then more mixing. Very natural, but definitely not my cup of tea.
Venturing to a bazaar in the Spring is quite enjoyable, but in the sweltering Summer you can imagine the chaos and the smells. To distract me from the lack of hygiene when it comes to raw meat (apparently they’re slowly but surely bringing some regulations in, but I’ve never seen anything like it) there’s usually a few stray kittens grabbing some scraps of chicken and whirling around your legs.
You see why I don’t fancy any meat or dairy now?
On the other hand, the veg always looks incredible.
I like to spend time choosing veg, so the bebos like to chat to Shota and ask where I’m from and if I’m a virgin, you know, standard questions you should expect from strangers.
That being said, they’re generally all really friendly. You may have only bought some cucumber but they’ll wish you a good life, happiness, love, wealth, health and will beam from ear-to-ear, especially if you utter a few words in Georgian!
Most people working at the bazaars are villagers, so it’s unlikely that they’ve met any foreigners. Even general city people are fascinated if they hear you chatting in English on the bus. I find village people much nicer though, considering the vast differences in lifestyle compared to in the city.
They’re more curious than anything, and eager to know about you and your life and to tell you about them and their life. Whereas the city people are generally more snobby and defensive of their lifestyle and against you and yours. I’ve been told in the past that this could easily be jealousy because I’m from the UK, which is one of the places seemingly idolised by the shops and cafes here. I dunno, it’s an interesting thought.
Anyway, it seems the prices in the main part of the bazaar are quite expensive (a whole 3GEL for 4kg of potatoes.?!…) so you’re lead into the side area, which isn’t so forgiving when you’re loaded with bags of shopping.
To be fair, it’s not usually as busy as it is in this photo because this was just before Easter, but still.
There are plenty of weird little shops here, when you look past the stalls and head down some stairs. Always dimly-lit, always crowded, always with more gherkins and oil than you would think necessary.
I don’t trust the bulk of what’s in there, but you can’t go wrong with lobio (especially when armed with a Georgian who knows his beans). So we stocked up, and have masses still left in the fridge after an attempt at making lobiani last night.
While queuing, I was watching in amazement at the raw chickens being dragged across the table tops across from this nice lady selling beans. They were in piles behind her on some cardboard boxes. My sheltered health and safety alarms were going crazy.
There is more of a queue system in these places but you can imagine my distress as a Brit in an Eastern queue. I don’t think anything makes me more riled than people cutting-in in queues, even more so when they smugly look like they deserve to be there like many older ladies do here.
At first I was shy to be heard speaking English too loudly, but now I’m quite amused by the reactions. Especially in Gldaani, it’s not so trendy as Vake or as touristy as Rustaveli, it’s quite distanced and life is a bit slower there, again because it’s mostly villagers on this side of the river.
So I proclaimed loudly to Shota that these people pushed in in front of us, I don’t care how childish it is, it’s a dog-eat-dog world in there.
These women didn’t know English but they definitely understood what I meant, and started explaining why they were just looking at the beans and will move back in a minute. Yeah, sure.
In another queue back outside, the man in front of us who was solemnly carrying all the shopping for his wife – a short, stocky lady wearing an old fur-trimmed coat and with only purple lip liner on around her lips – started asking Shota where I was from, if I’m his wife, how we met… Then told Shota that he pronounces his ‘r’s badly now because of my influence.
Bit rude, but I guess he had good intentions.
The people working were so excited to see me taking a photo of their display, you could tell they’d put effort into it. They’re usually very smiley with us and tell Shota and I that we look like each other. It’s a weird thing to say isn’t it? For a couple? I’ve learnt now that it’s their way of saying that we’re a good match, and they mean that our souls are aligned, rather than us looking like siblings – phew!
I’ll leave you with a photo of some churchkhela. Definitely give it a try if you ever visit Georgia. I once ate so much homemade churchkhela (with chestnuts instead of walnuts) that I made myself sick. It’s kind of like a healthy Snickers since it’s just nuts dipped in grapejuice (that hasn’t had any sugar added). As much as I don’t eat them much anymore, aren’t the colours beautiful?!
What do you think? Could you handle a weekly shop at the bazaar?