Friday, September 16, 2011

The Bizarre Bazaar

The Bizarre Bazar

Over the last two years, I have had the pleasure of doing my shopping in the Goranboy Bazaar. It’s probably the smallest market of all the region centers that I have seen, and I rarely visit it. However small, I can get my basic needs there, and within the city I can find a plethora of odds and end that make up my daily diet.

In my second week in Azerbaijan, my host dad Adigozel asked (in Azerbaijani) if I wanted to go to the bazaar with him. In Tagiyev, the village that I lived in for the first two months, the bazaar was only open on Sunday mornings, like a farmers’ market. As we made our way to the bazaar, Adigozel told me to stick close to him and let him do the talking. I laughed to myself as I nodded in agreement because I had a vocabulary of maybe 40 words at this point, and I wasn’t confident enough to use them outside of my host dad and mom, so I wasn’t going to go anywhere.

As we entered the bazaar, I was taken aback. There was produce everywhere. Freight trucks full of cabbages and “vintage” Soviet cars stuffed full of apples. Ladies bundled up in scarves and robes lined the streets selling bunches of cilantro, parsley and basil. Potatoes were sold on every corner, and each type of potato had a different price. I couldn’t tell what the difference between a good potato and bad potato was, and I guess that is why Adigozel didn’t want me talking. People were shouting at me from all different directions, and I had no idea what they were saying, but I assume that it couldn’t have been anything too bad, because my host dad would have had someone’s head on a platter.

As we walked through the bazaar, Adigozel bought up the store, to put it proverbially. He bought the produce for the week, and as we were walking, I realized the reason he had brought me along. I was the pack horse. I had thought he invited me because he had been helping me practice my food vocabulary at the house and I figured he wanted to give me some “experiential learning”. This may have been the case, but he knew exactly what my real purpose would be. As he made his purchases, he handed me bag after bag. He and I carted all the vegetables and fruits home, each of us hunched over Quasimodo-style with the weight of our groceries (apples are friggin’ heavy!). We must have been a sight to see for my host mom, a proud old man and a young American woman walking side by side hunched over with the groceries in tow.

As I moved out to my region, I did not have too much experience with the bazaar until I moved out of my host family’s house. When I saw the Goranboy bazaar for the first time, it looked okay to me. It was open every day and had the fruits and vegetables that were in season. However I didn’t know any better. Two weeks later I ventured to Mingechevir where the bazaar is HUGE. I gasped when I saw the out-of-season vegetables and my mouth dropped when I learned it was open until 5pm! That is three hours later than our bazaar and a better time for people who work to buy their produce. I had bazaar envy.

“Bazaar envy?” you question, but yes, there is such a thing here. If I go to the bazaars of the big cities, I can find almost anything, including the very elusive broccoli. There is not even a word for broccoli in Azerbaijani. We showed our neighbor once a picture of broccoli and asked what the name is, and he said he had never seen it before, and his father is a farmer. But in Ganja, you can get broccoli at the bazaar. Village PCV’s also have this bazaar envy problem. In many of the village bazaars, like Tagiyev, they are only open once/week and you have to do your shopping for the week. God forbid it rains before one of these days because then you are walking through mud up to your knees buying muddy veggies to cart home to your house, which then becomes muddy. There’s no escaping it. While I was in Turkey, I got a chance to visit the Grand Bazaar there. It was incredible. Colors everywhere, anything from hookahs to scarves, bananas to artichokes were available to me. We spent about 3 hours walking back and forth and went back there two days later for two more hours of looking. That was bazaar envy.

My bazaar in Goranboy dictates what kind of dinner Kate and I eat. If we can’t get to the bazaar in the afternoon, we are stuck without any type of produce. Usually one or two of the shops sell a limited amount of vegetables until 5pm, but these are on the other side of town. However, our bazaar is only 3 minutes or so from our house, so if we can get the time, it’s really easy to cart our vegetables back. Why don’t we buy veggies for the week? you ask. Well, we don’t have a fridge. Last night we really wanted some chicken soup, but our house was empty, and neither of us wanted to walk the 15 minutes it would take to get vegetables for soup. We had hot chocolate for dinner (sorry mom).

The bazaar isn’t only about going and getting your food, it’s also about building relationships. I have a herbs lady, an onion lady, a flatbread lady, a butcher, a carrots and cabbage lady, etc. Kate and I are “their” Americans. We have built these relationships within our community. So when I walk through the bazaar, I have nice conversations with each of my vendors, even if I don’t have to buy anything from them that day. If I ever had a problem or needed anything, I know these people would help. On Thanksgiving, we needed a live turkey. I asked around at the bazaar and got it for pretty cheap from the village. They made sure that I didn’t need anyone to kill it for me (the men offered to help) and then offered to carry Tom back to my house. We got him back alive and well, our own pilgrim experience on Thanksgiving was a success.

All in all, I am pretty lucky. For as much complaining I do, I get really cheap, delicious fresh vegetables all year round. I get to eat pomegranate, apricots and persimmon out of my back yard for free, while it costs like $3 for one pomegranate in the states (that’s a COMPLETE guess). I have learned to cook things from scratch and definitely figured out how to be creative with the ingredients I have.
So to sum up, I will give you a list of things I can find in Goranboy in each season to give you all a taste of what living “locally grown” is like.

All year: Parsley, cilantro, dill, bananas (imported), onions, tomatoes (but they go from $.30 to $4/kg in winter), garlic

Fall(late September-late November): Apples, pomegranate, quince, persimmon, spinach, carrots, cabbage, green beans, squash and pumpkin, nuts

Winter (late November to early March): cabbage, carrots, onions, spinach, green beans apples (although they are less delicious), squash, mandarin oranges and beets

Spring (March to late May): early spring is the worst, because winter vegetables are going out, and summer vegetables are coming in but late spring we get alchas (unripe plums), apricots, cucumbers, mulberries, and carrots

Summer (late May to September): Peppers, eggplant, figs, apricot, cherries, strawberries, watermelon, yemish (a type of melon), peaches, grapes, and plums

Never: Broccoli, fresh peas, artichokes, avocado, lettuce, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, and summer squash

Picture 1: What Adigozel does with his loot from the bazaar
Picture 2: The Grand Bazar in Istanbul
Editor's note: I will put pictures up of the Goranboyu bazaar when I take them! :)


  1. beautiful girl, happy tabaski! or eid maybe up there? HAVE FUN! EAT GOAT! <3

  2. Hot chocolate for dinner? I can ertainly think of worse, but don't want to go down tha road. I'll make sure we have plenty of broccoli for Christmas dinner.