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Station Square and Dezerter Bazaar

Fruit Seller, Station Square, Tbilisi, Georgia

Getting used to a new city, especially one in a different country,

can feel like a scavenger hunt. One of the most frequently asked questions usually starts off with, “Where can I find a….”

Here in Tbilisi, the answer to that question will likely be somewhere around Station Square.

Shoes? Lots of them. Produce? Take your pick. Kitchen gadgets? Plenty. A whole pig for your next cookout? Not my dietary choice, but there’s plenty to choose from if you’re not a vegetarian.

Plants, hardware, sexy lingerie, fish, homemade brandy, spices, churchkhela*, and musical instruments? It’s all about a five-minute walk away from Station Square.

Last Saturday, I took a stroll around Dezerter Bazaar, the largest food market in Tbilisi, just a short stroll from the Station Square Metro Station. It’s said the 2,000-square-meter market got its name from the deserting soldiers during the Russian-Georgian war in the 1920s who went there to sell their weapons, the one category you won’t find today.

I suspect it would take the average non-native several trips to the bazaar before he overcomes the disorienting chaos that is Dezerter. The cacophonous sounds of people yelling mixed with visual commotion and strong scents can be unnerving during the first few visits.

One of my first stops last week was at a fruit seller’s stand where a middle-aged man was sitting, smoking a cigarette, behind a mound of strawberries. I asked him if I could take a photo of the strawberries. He joked that it would be five lari.

I asked him if I could take his photo for five lari, the cost of a kilogram of strawberries as his shop. I think it was the happiest five lari he earned all day since he stood up and announced to others in the stand that I just paid him to take his photo.

It made his day, I got a few photos that I wanted, and I was out the rough equivalent of two dollars.

From there, I ventured into a nearby building where one, if so desired, could buy various meats, cheeses, and spices.

Being used to shopping in the States, one shouldn’t assume that this is like your typical grocery store where everything comes neatly packaged and the meats bear little physical resemblance to the animals they come from. When you buy pork at this market, there’s no doubt whatsoever it’s a pig.

Along one of the walkways, an older woman with a kind, round face said something to me. I apologized and said I didn’t understand. From America. Another older woman, standing around a corner, overheard me and exclaimed “America!”

She invited me over to sample the various spices and juices she was selling, and I happily obliged. I ended up buying a bottle of some homemade juice (or wine) and a packet of svaneti salt, a tasty blend of coriander, dill, blue fenugreek, red pepper, marigold, cumin, garlic, and salt.

I would have bought a jar of green ajika, a chile paste, if I wasn’t worried about it spilling in my camera bag on the way home.

Taking a flight of wooden stairs behind the building, I descended into a narrow alley filled with spice stands and the fish market. (Did I mention the strong scents earlier?) I strolled around drinking my juice (or wine) and took in the confusion around me.

If you would have asked me three years ago what I would think about drinking homemade juice (or wine) out of a recycled plastic bottle and wandering through a crowded bazaar in a foreign country, I would have probably shifted uncomfortably in my chair.

If you’d ask me today, I’d tell you it’s worth every minute.

Join me next week when I answer the question, "What's crowded, fun, and red and white all over?"

* Most people outside of Georgia probably have never seen a churchkhela. It’s a candy made from dripping a string of nuts (usually hazelnuts or walnuts) into a thickened crushed grape juice then dried in a sausage shape. The first time Corie and I tried one, it had the flavor profile of a dinner candle. Fortunately, we’ve had better ones since.


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