Athens Central Market – Shopping Heaven Or Hell!

The piles of fruit and vegetables displayed on the barrow is like a Disney advert for Vegetarian Heaven. Bright red cherries, golden corn cobs, shiny yellow, perfectly curved bananas, apples, peaches, pears, carrots and vine leaves – and all plastic. As kitsch as kitsch can be.

The stall is part of the vast commercial area, which surrounds the Central Market on Athinas in Athens. Fortunately, in a sea of food shops it appeared to be the only one whose produce was obviously inedible – although some of the delicacies on display would have required a highly developed constitution to devour, not to mention prepare.

In the streets around the market you’ll find shops and stalls selling virtually everything to satisfy the most diverse (perhaps a better word would be ‘weird’) of appetites. Uncovered crates of sausages and cooked meats stand out in the heat of an Athenian summer, on a day when the pollution levels had already accounted for two fatalities. Long strings of black puddings, salamis and smoked pork loins hang from the metal support arms of battered and rusting canopies, cages of tightly packed live chickens, ducks and rabbits stand six high and the cages of quail standing beside them might well have belonged to the bird shop next door to the butcher, but as quail don’t have the same cheery song as the canaries inhabiting the more spacious cages dangling from hooks in the walls, it’s unlikely that they’d be seen as anything more entertaining than the stuffing for the ducks in the adjoining cages.

Five different types of potato, eight assorted lettuces, eighteen varieties of olive, pyramids of dry salted cod that need to be soaked overnight, and which changes the flavour only to that of wet salted cod, kiosks overflowing with breads and biscuits with the pungent aroma of cinnamon, or tiny, hard bread rolls covered in sesame seeds.

Moving from the heat of the sun into the cool of the market’s interior, the most noticeable change, apart from the slight drop in temperature, is that there isn’t one. The noise level remains the same. The blaring of car horns being supplanted by the banging of scoops on ornate cast iron to attract customers in the fish market, or the banging of cleavers on slightly less ornate metalwork in the meat department. The high-pitched scream as the vendors hawk their wares and the customers exchange insults for getting in each others way, remains the same. Or in the case of the fish market, amplified by the magnificent arched ceiling that seems more suited to some Renaissance Venetian sepulchre than a place of fish heads, crab claws and conger eel.