Kartupeli, kartupeli, kur ir tavi brāļi? Rīgas tirgū, Rīgas tirgū, tur ir mani brāļi!
One of the most familiar and easily recognizable structures in Rīga may be the Riga Central Market. Five pavilions in Neoclassic and Art Deco styles cover a total of 778,000 square feet, with more than 3,000 booths selling anything and everything. A market and produce stalls have been on the shores of the Daugava River in this area since as early as 1571, and today the Market has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the Historic Centre of Riga.
Construction started in 1924 utilizing metal frameworks from World War I German Zeppelin hangars from Vaiņode Air Base. The initial large structure design was impractical due to their immense size and the logistical difficulties in heating/cooling such a large space, and so the new buildings were ultimately erected from stone and reinforced concrete only utilizing the upper portions of the hangars. The Market's pavilions are five of nine Zeppelin hangars remaining in the world.
Four of the hangars are located side by side along the canal, with the final and biggest built perpendicular to them on the east end. Its 54,000 square feet are intended for wholesale and meat processing, while the smaller pavilions are meant for retail. Underground is a wide basement for storage, and products can be transferred up top with cranes without disturbing traffic, customers or the seller. The basement has three underground tunnels connecting to the adjacent river bank.
Vendors can also be found outside along Nēģu iela, selling from cars, tables and tents. On our visit we found the freshest strawberries, blueberries and raspberries here, paying $5 for enough berries to keep us snacking for the next three hours with enough left for breakfast the next day. As far as produce goes, the Market will also be your most-reasonably priced destination for honey, mushrooms and other fresh and natural products from the Latvian countryside.
We found the tirgus to be a good source for souvenirs, with good deals on Laimas chocolates and Latvian rye bread. There are also booths of knitwear, wooden ornaments and amber jewelry, however it was the produce and food vendors that attracted my attention most. It was easy to imagine finding a favorite cheese booth over time, getting to know the woman I would buy my fish from and chatting about the best recipes for various cuts with my butcher – just as in our little marché in France…
We made a few more purchases, including mazsālītie gurķi (pickles) to crunch on while browsing, and then beautiful new potatoes I was thinking of boiling up for dinner with some fresh dill. Not remembering the lb to kg conversion I asked for 2 euro worth – and was rewarded with more potatoes than we would be able to eat on our entire trip.
The stroller was laden and our mouths busy snacking as we emerged from the last hanger and crossed the canal into Vecrīga. (Note: the views over Daugava of Akmens tilts and Pārdaugava are beautiful from this point if you can manage to safely cross the many lanes of traffic.) I was already composing a mental shopping list for things I wouldn’t pass up on my next visit – which was not to be during this trip, but is high on my list of priorities next time!
It is estimated that between 40,000 to 160,000 visit the market daily, and on our visit it was rather crowded, even being a weekday. Keep your wallets and purses close to avoid falling prey to a pickpocket, and exercise caution as you would in any public market. However the market was clean, most vendors courteous and the flavors fresh and natural – a day at the Rīgas Centrāltirgus remains a purely Latvian experience that can’t be beat.