Laiki Greek Street Market
The “Laiki” (“popular market”) is a large Greek street market. When the traditional weekly village market came to town it became a street market. Today no village, town or city in Greece is without its street market, held at least once a week. In the larger towns the market is set up in a different neighbourhood every day, to cater to the inhabitants without them having to travel far.
Market traders include both middlemen who sell products bought from farmers, and the farmers themselves, who sell their goods direct to increase their profits.
Behind the pretty picture of rows of stalls with goods neatly set out lie many hours of effort, starting long before the first customers reach the market. Traders and farmers set out in the early hours of the morning in order to reach the market area before sunrise and find a good spot for their stalls. They also need time to set out their wares in an attractive way.
The municipal cleaners have the hard task of cleaning up after the last customers have left and the stalls have been removed.
Street market colours, scents, tastes and sounds
Every street market in Greece is a feast for the senses:
- Sight. Your gaze will wander from stall to stall, enjoying the rainbow of colours from fresh fruit and veg to multicoloured cloth and carpets.
- Hearing. Deep, melodious voices with village or Gypsy accents, joking and teasing, are raised in a huge hubbub as traders cry their wares and proclaim their final offers.
- Taste. You can try before you buy. The traders themselves encourage you to try their fruit, to prove it’s the best in the market.
- Smell. The mouth-watering smell of souvlakia grilling in the catering vans mingles with the fake Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabanna perfumes.
- Touch. Your hands will stroke soft textiles, embroidered tablecloths and runners of the kind you’ll see in every Greek house decorating the kitchen table, the television, the DVD and even the washing machine.
Getting to the Laiki street market
In every town the street market is held in a different neighbourhood each day of the week, while the main event with the most goods on show is usually on a Saturday.
In Heraklion the street markets are as follows:
- Monday: Kaminia
- Tuesday: Alikarnassos
- Wednesday: Mastabas (Panayitsa)
- Thursday: Patelles
- Friday: Therissos
- Saturday (main market): Patelles
As you near the laiki market you’ll see lots of traffic and people heading home with bags and shopping trolleys full of stuff. If you go by car you’ll have to be patient as there’s bound to be a minor traffic jam and it’s not easy finding somewhere to park.
On entering the market, the first stalls you see are the fruit and vegetable section. Scattered among them are stalls selling cheese, fish, herbs and flowers. A bit further on are the stalls selling clothes, shoes, textiles and embroidery, household items, perfume, gifts and seasonal goods (Christmas/Easter items or beachtowels, caps and swimwear). Usually just outside the main market are parked the Gypsy trucks with their coloured carpets on show, the owners patiently smoking cigarettes while waiting for customers.
In the street market you’ll also find village eggs, live chickens and rabbits reared by the villagers who sell them direct.
The street market crowds are like a human river flowing back and forth. People squeeze into the alleys between the stalls and trip over shopping trolleys being pulled or left there by absent-minded housewives. If you want to take photographs, try to be quick and don’t tread on the small children being tugged along by their mothers and invisible in the crowd of adults.
Street market quality
Food. Many Greeks prefer to buy their fruit and vegetables from the street market because there’s more choice than at a neighbourhood grocer’s or a supermarket, and the goods are usually fresher and cheaper. Of course there’s no actual rule; sometimes the opposite may be true. But there’s certainly greater variety and lots of people enjoy a bit of bargaining, as they feel they’ve gained a few euros from the weekly shop.
If you’re not sure of the flavour of the fruit you want to buy, ask the trader for a bit to try if he hasn’t already suggested it himself. He’ll gladly offer you a tangerine or a slice of melon or watermelon, in an attempt to prove his fruit is better than that of the stall next door, even if it’s run by his best friend or a relative. At that moment both are traders and the sale is all.
Herbs. In the street market you’ll find the famous Cretan dittany, chamomile, spearmint, sage, oregano and every other kind of herb packaged in clear plastic bags. Usually the sellers have gathered the herbs in the mountains and packaged them themselves. They can tell you how to use each one. Be aware, however, that some herbs such as dittany are cultivated, so what you’re getting isn’t the wild mountain type that’s very hard to gather.
Clothing. The street market is also full of clothes for sale. Theseare usually cheap and cheerful tracksuits, tops and pyjamas, and more rarely suits and better-quality dresses. They’re cheaper than in the shops because the traders don’t have high rents and staff costs to cover. So you can find great clothes in the market if you’re prepared to fight your way to the stalls and sort through the assortment on offer along with everyone else.
Remember that if you want to try something on, you can usually ask the trader to let you use the van parked behind the stall.
Shoes. You can also find shoes and slippers here, often identical to those sold in the shops. Look carefully and if you can’t find your size now, better luck next time.
Textiles and embroidery. If you find the perfect curtain material, be careful. In some cases unscrupulous traders have been known to use their own shorter wooden tape measures, stealing a few inches in order to pocket a few extra euros. The solution is simple: bring your own tape measure and insist on measuring the cloth yourself.
As for embroidered goods, today China makes whatever the market demands, so why not Greek-style traditional embroidered tablecloths? Of course one shouldn’t generalise, and I wouldn’t want to wrong any honest tradesmen who may truly have bought them from village women wanting to supplement their family income with their needlework. Just be wary about anything that looks like the bargain of the century.
Perfumes. Don’t get too excited at the Christian Dior, Armani or Dolce Vita labels. They’re just cheap fakes which you can buy as a present for your wonderful girlfriend, whom you missed so much on your dull and boring holiday in the sun.
Carpets. Many people are dubious about the quality of the carpets sold in the street market. It’s hard to be definite on the subject. The truth is that they generally look just like the ones in the shops, at a temptingly cheaper price which can be driven even lower by a bit of hard bargaining.
Pedlars. In a street market, outside a supermarket or even in the town centre, you may be approached by a street pedlar who sidles up to offer you watches, leather goods, video cameras or other expensive items at rock-bottom prices. It’s usually a real steal, so be very careful if you don’t want to regret it later.
Useful information about the laiki street market
- Opening hours : The street market’s open from early in the morning to 2 or 3 p.m.
- Prices fall: As closing time approaches and goods are left unsold on the stalls, or the sky begins to darken with threatening rainclouds which will drive customers home, prices can drop significantly.
- Food vans: If you get hungry or thirsty wandering round the market, follow your nose to the nearest souvlaki van. A well-done souvlaki and a slice of bread will tide you over till lunchtime quickly and cheaply. If you’re thirsty or feel you need a coffee, the vans also sell soft drinks, beer, bottled water and anything else you might need.
- Toilets: There are toilets in the street market but unfortunately they’re not usually very clean.
- Municipal Police: The Municipal Police is responsible for law and order in Greek street markets. If you have a problem, ask a police officer for assistance.
- Finally, beware of pickpockets and keep an eye on your wallet, purse or handbag at all times.
* The article "Laiki, the Greek street market " has been written by Angela Taranu and Yannis Samatas