While frequenting food markets during travels is a major preoccupation of mine, I have never before seen one as large as the central market in Riga. Even in countries twice or even six times the size of Latvia, markets that are open to the public are never this big. It might be difficult to think of even a wholesale market this big. Besides the 4 largest buildings that resemble airplane hangers, the area is encircled by other industrial buildings filled with more vendors. Beyond that, stalls are packed into every available space.
The market, though primarily selling fresh produce and every other kind of food imaginable, also provides a place for vendors hawking clothing and accessories, household goods, flowers, plants, and seeds. If you’re traveling to the USA keep in mind that seeds will be confiscated.
Walking by the produce stalls, it was apparent that the supply was plentiful and the quality decent, especially for the prices, but the variety seemed a bit limited. Practically all of the lettuce was the curly headed variety. Other greens like the spinach seemed in short supply.
Holy smokes, have you ever seen so many smoked meats in one place? Beef, pork, poultry; you name it they had it. All I could think of was the many soups and sandwiches I could make with those ingredients. What a time not to have a kitchen at my disposal. I decided that an apartment rental would be a requirement on any subsequent trips to Riga.
Finding a bakery was no trouble at Riga Central Market, but deciding on a bread for those sandwiches could take awhile. Bread might be a good way to determine where you are in Europe if you acquired a short term memory loss while on vacation. Northern and Eastern countries are dominated by whole grained and very dark breads with fewer white breads.
Cheese might be the next item on my shopping list, but there seemed to be far more butter than cheese, but it was interesting to note that in the dairy group of foods, Feta cheese was well represented. Naturally there was a lot of milk, and cultured products like yogurt and kefir were also present.
Open every day of the week between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., with the outdoor spaces open and hour earlier in the morning and an hour later in the evening, the hustle and bustle of the market never ceases. The opportunity for purchasing the freshest food every day is remarkable.
Honey and beeswax candles were plentiful and it occurred to me that they might make great gifts to bring home. Honey lasts for such a long time that it couldn’t go bad during extended travel. The beeswax candles were inexpensive compared to what we pay at home. Traveling with a plastic box and lid would insure that items as delicate as the candles would arrive home without being damaged.
Butcher shops were plentiful inside the larger buildings. Whether raw or cured, the variety was immense. The white cold cut is a cured fat. A word of warning, just in case you are tempted to try cured fat, my recommendation is to limit yourself to Lardo di Colonnata from Italy and pass on its counterparts in the Baltic. The Italian version is cured with herbs and has some flavor. Even that is best served very thin on toasted bread, so the heat of the bread starts to melt the lardo.
Now for dessert. No matter where you travel, you can always be assured to find pastry or sweets. The cherry cheesecake was tempting, but since it was sold whole it was out of the question. Luckily our hotel served a great breakfast buffet with some dessert items included.
Many grocery items could be found scattered throughout the market. If you want to do this market justice, my recommendation would be to give yourself at lease 4 hours so you could have a leisurely pace.