Saturday, 20 June 2015

Market Meandering

Ahh, Saturdays! Time to sleep in (or in Dutch: "sleep out"- uitslapen); time to read quietly over a big cup of tea or attempt to do a crossword; time to do things around the house or in the kitchen; time, in fact, to do those small things that the rush of the day to day seem to make impossible. And here we come down to it: time. It has been a busy, hectic, and altogether manic spring with teaching five days a week at full steam, marking half incomprehensible essays, and generally going a bit cross eyed. At last the students are busy with their exams, and I've had a chance to recoup a bit and find pleasure in those small things.

My favourite thing about Saturdays besides the above is also putting the radio on and listening to both music and chat from the BBC (some days better than others), and going down to Groningen's Vismarkt to poke about the stalls a bit and buy fresh produce. Today was such a day, with the added bonus (danger?) of finding a second hand bookshop I'd never been to before. I managed to find three paperbacks (Robert Goddard, if you must know, and whom I highly recommend for a good summer read) for 4 euros, which felt extra nice because the chap stocking the books refused to sell me only two books when I could get three for the same price. Now that is my kind of book salesman! I should hate to disregard a good bargain. My bookshelves, however, are beginning to protest...

Vismarkt, Groningen
After this, and feeling rather pleased, I went to the market to wander around a bit and pick up my usual fresh produce. What I like about the market is that it offers not only fresh supplies, but the people working the stalls know their products well and can help you find just the right cheese to take home for a Saturday evening, or can explain just what went into the biscuits made from local honey and so on. I like the atmosphere: the press of people, from frazzled young mothers to old grannies with baskets on their arms; the young couple deliberating over just which fish they should buy in for their parent's visit the next day; the shouts of the stall owners "three avocados for an euro!" "Get your strawberries here!" "Who is next? Who can I help?" The bustle and buzz of the place is so gezellig (a wonderful Dutch word that has no equivalent in English, and the closest thing would be the word "cosy"). It is very alive and busy.

I enjoy walking down towards the end of the market where the fishmongers are; they bring the smell of the sea with them, and I find it curious to see the slimy things with eyes or claws encased in ice. I don't particularly like eating fish, so I tend to observe these stalls with a polite curiosity and slight morbid fascination. It is haring (herring) season at the moment, so there were many stalls set up just for this purpose. It is a Dutch delicacy that I have not yet been brave enough to try. I don't much like fish anyway, and raw fish is certainly not my first choice off any menu. (Ok, actually the hering is salted, or "soused", but still...) It is a popular snack, however, and the herring is often served on a bit of bread with onions or pickles, or eaten by holding it by the tail and letting it slide down one's gullet. Appetising, eh? Well, apparently, as there were queues all over the place for fresh herring. It is the best moment of the season just now, so the vishandels are very busy.
Broodje haring

Yes, going to the market and buying produce from those who know all there is to know about potatoes or cheese or fish is a pleasant thing; it is nice to catch the stall owner's eye and share a smile or small chat over the counter, or to go with a pocketful of coins and walk home with having spent less than 10 euros on fresh food. I like the atmosphere and unique, almost old fashioned quality. It certainly beats standing in the queue in a supermarket. There is something to be said about that interaction and being able to see what it is we are eating up close, rather than packaged away behind plastic or cardboard.

I bought my usual appelflap pastry treat (it's Saturday after all!), and a whole grilled chicken, the carcass of which is currently boiling pleasantly in the kitchen to make stock from later, and lots of vegetables. The avocados were at a nearly crazy discounted price of four for 50 euro cents. Must have hit the market at just the right moment!

Whatever your Saturday schedule is, perhaps think about heading down to your local markets if you have one. The experience is more than just buying food; it is also about making a brief connection with those who provide us with what we choose to nourish ourselves with. Happy Saturday!