The Ancient Greeks had their agora – a central gathering place that was ‘the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city’. Kutaisi, like many Eastern European cities, has its market place – the Green Market. I like my markets. I was particularly impressed with the souks in Morocco earlier this year. And I’ve been impressed in other cities, too. But the market in Kutaisi is more than a place where people come to sell their wares – it’s an institution. And at first it can be just a tad intimidating.
They say that the Romans never invaded Ireland because of the women. Word has it that when they pulled alongside the west coast of Ireland, they saw the women harvesting seaweed. So fierce did they look that the Italian boys figured the men must be horrors indeed. And they kept on sailing. Well, the women of Kutaisi might well be Irish.
The odd one was happy enough to relieve the monotony by posing for a photo but she was a rare woman. The produce ws plentiful. Each had their calling be it flour, grains, cheese, meat, or booze. Some mixed and matched and offered just about everything. This lovely lady held us captive for half an hour as she explained in her best Georgian how she made her own wine and chacha – a popular grape vodka. We, of course, being the polite travellers that we are, had to sample everything. [Memories of a pig killing in Bekescsaba came flooding back, but this time I showed some restraint.]
Georgian wine – the homemade stuff at any rate – is a dry sort of sweet and is definitely a grower. The makers are so proud of their recipes which have been passed down through generations that a friendly competition ensues when more than one is in a room at the same time. I hadn’t realised that Georgia lays claim to the first vineyards – a stellar claim indeed. Anyway, yer woman’s English was non-existent. All we knew in Georgian was Didi madloba (thank you very much). By the end of the hour we spent in the market, we had the pronunciation down pat, much to the amusement of those we encountered.
The meat, the cheese, the vegetables … all were quite something and enough for me to be seriously considering a move. Not now. But sometime maybe. It’s on my list of possible addresses. Who wouldn’t like to shop here ever day? The vegetables looked as if they came out of the ground rather than from the back of a truck. And the variety of produce on sale was quite something.
We were definitely the subject of many a stare – and once we had had a chat or three, the curiosity tempered from somewhat intimidating to the mild innocence that comes when hawkers spot a potential score. I only had one item on my shopping list – Georgian tea. That said, had I not been restricted to cabin baggage and by import laws, I could have packed a suitcase or three with the delicacies on offer. Of course, there is the usual display of tat that you find in markets everywhere, the provenance of which is either China or Turkey, depending on which part of the world you’re in. But the tat here was of a higher quality – if that is possible.
In our travels, I saw a number of stalls selling what looked like multi-coloured candles hanging from their wicks. It wasn’t until later that I realised what I’d seen were Churchkhela.
Churchkhela (Georgian: ჩურჩხელა) is a traditional sausage-shaped candy made by repeatedly dipping a long string of nuts in tatara – a mixture of flour, sugar and Badagi (concentrated fresh grape juice). Georgians usually make Churchkhela in the Autumn when grapes and nuts are harvested. Churchkhela can also be made with dried fruit (such as peach, apple or plum) and pumpkin seeds.
Something I think I’d like to try at home. And here’s the recipe. They’re quite delicious.
Having had our fill of smells and savours, we wandered out through the maze of stalls onto the street, turned a corner, and stopped dead in our tracks. The back wall of the Green Market is nothing short of jawdroppingly spectacular.
I can’t find any information on it and our intrepid fountain of information from the tourist office failed to mention it in his brief introduction to the city. It doesn’t rank on the list of places to go. Up close, it seems like it could be a graphic depiction of the history of the country. There were guns and canons and bullets and families and saints and musicians and all sorts. War and peace reigned side by side. Music, art, literature all had a place. It is truly something. In years to come it might well be to budding artists what the likes of the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum are to sketchers today.