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Yes! This is the feeling I got when walking through the Thursday market in Rethimno. Yes, because when you think Mediterranean you think colors, freshness and buzz. And this what I experienced.
A rainy day
No a good start of a day when you do vacation on Crete: gray clouds and increasing amounts of rain. But this cannot stop a market aficionado, better get wet than missing a chance. And it was worth it, as there were a guy selling cheap umbrellas and friendly vendors with their large enough marquees.
Stepping around some water peddles I came across approximately 60 stalls each with its own small truck in the back with replenishment. It was a feast for the eyes, everywhere local produce of the season in all their colors: tomatoes, peppers, grapes, beans, apples, pears, leaves, okra, clementines, potatoes, nuts, beets and much more. I saw freshness everywhere, and the produce were not standardized and photo perfect as what I am used to find in supermarkets. It was great to see that the produce had their own personalities aka. shape, color and size, their roots certainly have touched some real soil. Nothing seemed to be coming from a wholesale market. I saw apples which the size of apricots, and they had their distinct taste. Just great to see, smell and eat that.
No butchers by the way.
This market does not focus on products for tourists. Certainly, there was nicely packaged olive oil, herbs and honey available, ready to bring back home on a plane, but this was something everybody bought anyway. The market was clearly made for local consumption, people were walking around selecting their fresh produce by themselves, the mostly large quantities handed to the trader to be weighted and paid for.
The crowd was astonishingly relaxed and even the partly heavy rain die not create a bad mood. As the vendors had large marquees, there was shelter for some people at least. The umbrella vendor probably had a good time as well.
Still what impressed me most, is that the people really looked at the produce, smelled and touched it before making their own selection. This to me is a sure sign that people still have and interest in good food, and put a high value into tasty, satisfying meals.
Quite a few vendors were able to speak at least a few words in English making interactions possible, something I really love about markets, they produce nice little stories and memories which pop up from time to time when I am day dreaming.
This way I learned about the Cretan Viagra. “I got one son from it!” the cheese monger said, “it is Viagra” pointing at the cheese I could not identify and looked a bit different from the others (check picture gallery). “One son!” he said again. With a help of a friend he explained me that this hard cheese was made from goat milk and ripened in a kind of goat skin bag. A must buy, as it is so rare to see. I still have some at home, easy to preserve. Unfortunately I forgot its name. Anyway, the aroma is intense as can be expected from an aged cheese, yet does not remind too much of goat or goat skin. And I cannot confirm the Viagra part of the story.
Buying as a tourist
When I am visiting markets outside my own city, I often buy produce like sausages, cheeses etc. because of easy transportation and no need of refrigeration. As I wrote after my visit at the Fresh Market in Bratislava: it is a mistake. First of all it narrows down the experience and secondly the opportunity to expand aroma knowledge.
This time I took besides cheese, nuts, almonds and herbs some grapes, apples, mandarins, yogurt in small quantities. It was worth it and it was possible to consume it without refrigeration. Okay, I had to hurry up a bit.
Many tourists on Crete like the market hall in nearby Chania (see my post). It has a wonderful architecture, there are some nice places to sit down and eat small dishes. But it has transformed over time and the availability of local flavors has decreased. I had more fun at the Rethimno market as it represented to me more of Crete “authenticity” or at least what I believe it to be. The market was not fully of street food stalls, just a few pies were available, enough to get a taste, while not having the feeling ot be at a food court.
And despite the rain I had a good time. What do I want more?
All in all: a traditional Mediterranean outdoor market keeping up a great local experience in the middle of a tourist region.
A little link list: