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Published: March 4th 2019
It has always been my philosophy that you haven’t really experienced a city if you haven’t gotten lost wandering the winding, often confusing alleyways of her marketplace. Whether you call it a souq, a bazaar or a market, they all have one thing in common. They are dripping with cultural experiences and provide endless opportunities to peak in the window to a specific culture.
These hubs of commerce, often unchanged since they began hundreds of years ago, are a sure fire way to see how the people of that city interact, eat, shop, dress and survive. Ripe with color and brimming with unique vignettes, old world markets are a magnet for anyone wanting to learn more about the history and the future of a community.
I always admire how markets can be an true equalizer. They invite in everyone and do not care about gender, age, religion or socioeconomic status. Sure, you can usually identify the big differences in all of those traits, but however you might be labeled it doesn’t seem to keep you away from the bustle of the market.
Everyone needs food, clothes and household supplies and this is
where they come to get those needs met. They may come to shop, to sell, to compare or to socialize, but the bottom line is everyone comes to the market.
I was particularly excited to visit the Green Bazaar in Almaty, because this region was part of the Silk Road so it holds a certain undeniable mystique and historical significance. When I walked through the rows at the bazaar, I could not help but imagine all of this commerce back in the time of the Silk Road where traders met in caravansarais and beasts of burden (particularly camels) were parked outside waiting for the next port of call to begin the process all over again.
In Almaty, the Green Bazaar is where the locals can go to get food, clothes and any other supplies you may need to run a household. It is not a market for tourists to buy trinkets and souvenirs. It is a legit market for the people of the community. So, in my opinion, it made it even more exciting to attend.
The Green Bazaar is massive. There are multiple floors of food items, under a covered
roof and connected with stairwells and escalators. There are vendors huddled around the outside of the building and some sections inside the building seem like nicer real estate than others with heating and pay-to-use restrooms.
Compared to other bazaars I have experienced, the vendors of the Green Bazaar seemed quiet and were not pushy at all. When I was approached about possibly buying something, the second I mentioned I only spoke English, with a nod the interaction ended.
The only exception to this observation were the guys who were hawking dried fruit. They were stationed at the front of the bazaar right by the doors and they were the Casanovas of the market. The dried fruit sections were all manned by men and they all had a certain sparkle in their eyes they used for shameless flirting. They tried to offer free samples and invited shoppers up to their stands.
My “I only speak English” bit did not exactly work with them. They were harmless and funny rather than smarmy. I was able to get away without buying any dried fruit and without any hassle, but they did stop me in
my tracks when one of them, after me only saying a few words, yelled out “American!” with a big smile. He was the only person while on my entire trip who guessed I was an American. I commended him on his sharp ear and geographical knowledge which earned him lots of teasing by his coquettish co-workers.
The Green Bazaar is orderly, clean and well managed. There wasn’t trash and there was no odor, even near the seafood sections. There were wide aisles for shoppers to meander. Which meant no jostling or pushing or getting in each other’s way. Uniform scales dotted the rows of merchandise for sale in a precise, repetitive manner.
The sellers all had places to sit next to their wares and the types of items for sale were all organized by type in a such an exact manner, the Green Bazaar could soothe even the strongest OCD sufferers among us.
Meat was near the meat and within the meat section the type of meat was grouped and identified by large matching signs. If you need beef, look for the sign with a cow painted on it. If you
fancy horse meat, walk yourself over to the sign with a horse. And if you like to leave your food options to the imagination, avoid the meat section all together.
There were fruit sections and veggies grouped together. There was a large dairy section with mounds and mounds of cheese varieties. There were the token spice sections along with nuts and dried fruit. There was a well advertised booth selling camel’s milk and Shubat (fermented camel’s milk). There was a glass room selling candy varieties and a section of pre-made salads.
Overall, my time spent aimlessly observing and wandering the Green Bazaar was entertaining, colorful and surprisingly effortless. It was an afternoon of peeking into the lives of people of Kazakhstan and it left me wanting even more.
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