May 22, 2015
I am in a mild state of shock. I am not quite sure what I expected of Almaty, but it is not these wide boulevards, tall chrome and glass skyscrapers, swanky cars and glitzy shopping arcades with smatterings of posh cafes, bars and restaurants. Perhaps most of all, I had not expected law abiding traffic. Nor had I expected it to be quite so green. The streets are lined with trees full of foliage and traffic circles sport well tended flower beds.
The Green Market is slightly more in keeping with my pre-conceived notion of Kazakhstan but not by much. its organzed layout smacks of Russia. It is not called “green market” because it sells greenery, but likely because the cavernous building it is housed in is painted a bilious green.
Inside are two floors, with each floor divided regimentally into subsections. There are arrays of dried fruits and nuts, some from Uzbekistan, some from Tajikistan and some from Kazakhstan. The stall owners beckon, calling out and gesturing. They hold out samples, urging potential customers in the time- honored tradition of old bazaars. And delicious they are too!
Past the dried fruits are herbs and spices but this is not the chatic sprawl or colorful pyramids seen in souks of Morocco or markets of Asia. These are arranged in neat piles instead. There are stalls of fresh baked bread – flat round loafs, some plain, some with a hint of cheese, some spiced with scallions.
By far, the largest section is for meat. There is a mind boggling array of varieties – pig, cow, duck, chicken and horse meat. Huge haunches hang from the hooks alongside sausages and a nauseating varietyof innards, stomachs and other unidentifiable parts.
There are dairy products- milk cheese, butter and fermented mare’s milk that is drunk in these parts. In Mongolia it is called Airak but here the same goes by the name of kimiz. Definitely an acquired taste and one that I am fairly certain I never will acquire.
There are stalls with clothing and shoes in the floor above, just about all stalls carrying the same varieties and quantities. And in the floor below are the fresh produce. Small piles of peppers, tomatoes, scallions and some greens. But what is startling is the price. Vegetables are easily twice or thrice the price of meat – the reverse of most other countries. But perhaps not so surprising given that this is a country with a large animal husbandry industry and little or no farms.
There are some fish as well – whole ones as well as fillets. And there are the cans, jars, entire tubs of caviar, both red and black. As expected, it is expensive but still a lot more affordable than at home. I have been in hog heaven! I was surprised to see an entire section of assorted kimchi and sushi. There are more varities if kimchi than I can find at home and the large roll of sushi tasted as good as it looked.
There are stalls selling seedlings and seeds – both for flowers as well as vegetables. Women inspect the produce and negotiate prices but there is none of the vigorous haggling of other bazaars that I am used to seeing. It is all very tame and low key.