I have never lived as close to my animal-kingdom food sources as I am living here.
In North Carolina, plant food-sources are available in our backyard. We have a huge vegetable garden that Bill and the kids cultivate, so that Bill can make pickles and I can eat the wonderful tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and squash. Here, even if we had a plot, we would have missed the traditional growing season. (Mind you, things are blossoming again; September was so unusually warm and sunny, even the plants are confused.) Farm families sell their produce in markets and on the streets. So we’re usually just one step from the people who grow the vegetables.
The open-air Krakivsky Market seems to be the biggest market in the neighborhood. My Lonely Planet guide calls it a ”real, bustling Soviet-style rynok (market) with all the fresh fruit, raw meat, and cheap junk that entails.” On a Saturday a couple of weeks ago, our friend Oleanna (L’viv National University Professor of Linguistics and our family’s professor of healthy L’viving), took us to Krakivsky Market to demonstrate how to shop for fresh groceries. We made sure we carried big bags for the bounty we expected to receive, and then followed her just a few blocks from her house.
We ducked through an entrance wall and found ourselves confronted with bustle indeed. First, past the purveyors of lots of puppies and a few kittens, and then immediately in narrow aisles crowded with all that “cheap junk.” Mind you, the puppies had slowed me down a bit, and another country’s cheap junk is always fun to examine. But we hurried on, integrating directly into the bustle, to through the produce area. In front of us, tables and tables of produce—eggplants, potatoes, beets, honey, nuts—tended by aproned ladies.
That’s Oleanna with the long dark hair in the middle of the top picture. She’s a master at interrogating ladies selling eggs and cheese and sour cream as to their freshness. We had tastes of something at every table where we stopped. (The eggs were so fresh I had to clean them of feathers and bird mess when I got home. I have never seen anything but a pristine egg before. Just goes to show how much I know.) We bought onions and carrots, apples and raspberries, dill and parsley. Adam found the kind of milk-cookies he remembers from the orphanage in Svalyava (Maria, they’re called.)
A building that reminded me of somewhere from the Central Canada Exhibition opens off the produce area. Here is the fresh meat. We started upstairs with a selection of sausages, hams and cheese. (Here I am getting a sample of the ham I proceeded to buy. mmmmm). Oleanna instructed me in the practice of washing ham in vodka before eating it to rid it of potential germs. (I have a half-bottle of vodka left. . . . Better get more ham.)
Then downstairs to the chicken, pork and beef. The meat of each of these animals is available in portions from whole to appendage (including ears, tails and feet) to organ. Whole, these things are pretty recognizable. Oleanna helped me identify the bits I didn’t recognize. Adam asked Bill to take pictures of him with the heads of things, whole and skinned. (Zachary did not come on this outing specifically to avoid having to see heads. I thought you would rather not see it.) This shopping trip was often as much a science lesson as it was about gastronomy. You can see how I’m getting closer to my food sources.
The first two weeks we were here, we shopped at the open-air Striysky Market, which is much smaller and features more flower real estate; flower sellers spend all day creating charming bouquets, and they do a brisk retail business. We have also found a medium-sized market behind the market where a meet and produce market shares the space with clothing merchants. We don’t know the name of that market yet. It’s the closest, so we visit there most often.
We also have bought things from street vendors: pears and apples and nuts. Most of these vendors are tiny elderly babushkas, eroded faces under their kerchiefs. They must wonder if they’re in the same country as they grew up in. They are probably just about my age. However, I have recently been warned not to buy from sidewalk vendors – you just don’t know where their produce comes from.
Last week I needed some staples so I decided to go to the big super market near the new stadium. I bought two tomatoes there. Well, you guessed it, the tomatoes tasted just like tomatoes I can buy at home: like nothing at all. I was happy to see bay leaves and rosemary and oregano in bulk bins, but the amounts I wanted to buy were too small to be weighted and so I left there spiceless. I have to reserve my grocery shopping for the rynoks.