To Market We Go

Carrots

Some of the best fruits and vegetables I have ever eaten have been here in Albania.  Everything is seasonal so don’t look for strawberries in the fall or squash in the spring.  Cabbage, potatoes, and other root vegetables are the winter staples with the summer months filled with figs, berries, and cherries.  Throw in a few fruits whose names don’t translate into English and I don’t recognize, and shopping and eating produce is an adventure.  Local fruit and vegetable markets are the life blood of Albania’s agricultural economy.  Whether it be large centralized markets in the villages, towns, and cities, neighborhood groceries with bins overflowing with produce picked on farms that morning, or young boys and old women hawking their produce along the side of the road, it is virtually impossible to not find fresh fruits and vegetables whenever I go out to shop.  (Ironically, the only places you aren’t guaranteed to find locally grown produce are in the large chain grocery stores.  Our big three chains, Conad, Euromax, and Carrfour all important the majority of their produce from other parts of Europe).  

Produce for sale

In Tirana, my favorite market is the Central Market.  While it is open every day, weekend days find this market buzzing with vendors selling everything from olives and walnuts to potatoes, seasonal fruits and tobacco and everything in between.  (For some reason there is also a large selection of remote controls being sold on one corner and cages filled with parakeets on another).  Produce is sold under tents or out of store fronts with more permanent stores selling fresh fish, meats, cheeses, and byrek.  The area is not blocked off from vehicular traffic (and even if it was that wouldn’t stop Albanian drivers) so it is a chaotic scene.  I’ve found that most vendors are honest and will take the time to write out the cost of my purchases on a piece of paper.  (I understand Albanian but numbers, especially those spoken quickly with a heavy accent continue to elude me).  Not all do this however, and even more insist on charging items in “old Leke” a form of currency that hasn’t been used in Albania in decades.  A 100 new Leke item (roughly $1 USD) would cost ten times as much when quoted in old Leke.  Add to this the weights and measures scale system used by the real old timers and shopping at the market is sure to be an adventure.  And that is why I love it.

Cabbages, olives, and melons

Because parking is such a nightmare in the area (and no, we don’t drive our car into the actual market area), we usually avoid shopping there on Saturdays.  This past weekend we braved the crowds and I am so glad we did.  Early October seems to be peak harvest season and the market was overflowing with fresh produce.  Last winter I had a conversation with an Albanian about curing my own olives. He assured me it was easy so when I spotted buckets of the fresh green fruit, I quickly bought more than enough for me to start my latest culinary experiment.  Intrigued by an article on I read recently about persimmons, I also bought a bagful of them.  Spotting two squashes that looked suspiciously like the elusive pumpkins I have yet to find in Albania, I bought them as well.  (Time will tell what vegetable they actually are).  And of course I bought the old standbys of apples, grapes, and lemons.

“Picking” apples

All of this fruit made for a long afternoon of preparations at home (as a precautionary measure, I soak all fruits and vegetables in a diluted bleach and water solution).  Combined with the salmon steaks and fresh calamari I purchased from a fish monger, we certainly ate well this weekend.

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