After a day at RLA Durbe in the capital of Latvia – Riga, students (and interns) can relax by going on a tour of the Riga Central Market. Our tour guide Natasha was a sweet lady, she told us all about the history of the market and the importance of the Daugava River. She told us how barges would transport fresh produce from the provinces of Latvia to Riga and dock workers would laboriously unload the cargo to the market for sale to the masses of Riga. When we posed to her questions in English, her response was “only Russian, I don’t speak English.”. I personally think it is great that RLA Durbe offers Russian-only tours of the city on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. It really forces you to use Russian outside of the classroom setting.
On the short 10 or 15 minute walk from RLA Durbe to the market, Natasha told us the story of the construction of the Central Market. The innovative engineers used the original metalwork from World War I German Zeppelin hangars. Had it not been for Natasha’s expertise and knowledge, we wouldn’t have known that!
As soon as we walked into the market, lively vendors in shops with shelves choked full of goods immediately greeted us. In other words, you can find almost anything you can imagine there. The first part of the market that Natasha brought us to sold fresh meat. She told us, in Russian, that the meat here is fresher than any meat that’ll you’ll ever find in a supermarket. As a result, tons of locals flock to the market to get their hands on the high-quality, yet affordable meat.
It’s May, which means it’s strawberry season in Latvia. Scenes of bright red and blue awaited us, with vendors promoting cartloads of strawberries and blueberries for sale. Our guide Natasha reminded the Americans in the group that the price we saw was the price per kilogram. 2 euros per kilogram of strawberries is a steal compared to the prices back in the states. The strawberries are super juicy and packed with flavor. They taste marvelous and the sweetness is all natural. Moreover, it deceivingly tastes kind of like sucralose despite the strawberries growing in only the most fertile natural soil.
Afterward, Natasha ushered us to the bakery portion of the Central Market. She bought a hearty loaf of Latvian rye bread and told us, “попробуйте, попробуйте!”, Russian for “try it!”. It was difficult for some students in our group to stomach it down, as our American palettes have never tasted such strong flavors. Personally, I loved the bread. It wasn’t sweet like the corn syrup drowsed white bread we are used to America. What a great culinary experience!
At the end of our tour, I bought some daisies for our lovely guide, Natasha. Flowers are very important in Russian and Latvian culture and the Central Market has its own dedicated portion to selling flowers. The entire experience at the Central Market was something very new for me. As an American, the only open markets that I’ve only been to farmers’ markets that sell produce and products at a jacked up rate. It was very interesting and eye-opening for me to see fresh healthy produce being sold at a very reasonable price.
I highly recommend visitors to Riga to visit the Central Market. Above all, visitors can try all the culinary wonders that Latvia has to offer!