By Sophia Dritsa
Do you want to experience the city like a true local? Do you want to tickle your senses while getting to know the goods of the Greek land? Then visit a Laiki agora (open farmers’ market). ‘Laiki agora’ or just ‘Laiki’ literally means the market that belongs to the people, and it certainly does. Since 1929 that Laiki was officially established as an institution, Greeks love it. It operates all over Greece, but especially in Athens, almost all districts and neighborhoods have their own Laiki every week (or sometimes two times a week like in groovy Kypseli).
Greece has always been an agricultural country. The Mediterranean climate and the fertile soil bare edible treasures like juicy tomatoes, sweet oranges, grapes, melons, peaches, strawberries, and much more. However, in Laiki you can also find herbs, legumes, nuts, eggs, honey, spices, flowers, even fresh fish or local cheese. Laiki is the place where farmers and other producers can sell their produce directly to the customers, without intermediaries, which means cheaper prices. It goes without saying that all vegetables and fruits are strictly seasonal. You can choose the bench that attracts you the most and make your purchase on the spot. The merchant gives you a bag if you don’t already carry one, and you can pick the goods yourself. Most people carry their own reusable bags or even trolley carts for carefree shopping without heavy lifting. Just keep in mind that most merchants do not accept cards so the majority of transactions are cash only. It is also a good idea to have small euro coins. Sellers are not particularly happy to give you back change from 20 or 50 euro notes; eventually, they will run out.
Laiki is a very buzzy, extremely lively, and colorful place. If you go every week you will start recognizing the sellers, and you will exchange your hellos. They are shouting all the time, singing out loud, touting their merchandise, without losing their concentration at all. Talking about multitaskers! They usually tease each other or the customers with witty jokes. Bright colors, smells, sounds, and smiles, in Laiki, Greeks not only shop but also socialize. Usually, there will be a street musician or even a group of musicians around, or jogglers and other performers. Sometimes there are also the occasional food trucks that sell souvlaki or hot dogs, in case you get hungry. As you may have realized by now, Laiki is an outdoor party of some sort. Even if you feel gloomy or you are preoccupied with various problems, you will get out feeling somewhat lighter or even joyful. Another tip is that as the day progresses, prices fall. That is, if you visit the Laiki early in the morning you will find generous quantities and top quality, but later on, and especially before Laiki closes, prices will drop considerably, but with quality, you will try your luck.
It would be a pity to visit Athens, without going to at least one Laiki. After all, it is where you will find the basic ingredients for almost any Mediterranean dish. Do you know why Greek cuisine is so tasty, even though the cooking is not particularly complex? Because Greeks usually rely on fresh and always seasonal ingredients. It is the freshness of the vegetables, the herbs, the milk, the fish, that allows the dish to really shine. Make a plan beforehand to organize your Laiki trip. Most markets operate from 7:00 to 14:00. There is an official page with all scheduled Laikes in Athens per area. It is in Greek, but there is an interactive map sign beside every Laiki that can help you orientate. After you shop all your fresh veggies, you can always book a food tour, actual or visual, to make the best of your purchases. Happy Laiki hunting!