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Midnight tour around the Athens central market

07 March 2011 / 16:03:28  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Grey skies and cold weather of latecoming winter may have prevented many Athenians to fly their kites in the sky over the city, but the tradition of Clean Monday dishes was eagerly followed.

The first day of Great Lent is a holiday in Greece and all honour the tradition to eat meatless meals no matter whether they intend to keep the longest lent of the year. This is the day of bean soup, pickles, seafood and halva.

Many Athenians chose neighbourhood fish shops and refrigerators with frozen goods in supermarkets to buy the products necessary for the holiday dishes. But most citizens of Athens chose to go to the central covered market.
Varvakeios Agora is a very busy place anyway, but the fish sector is so crowded by people only once a year. And this is the night between Lent and Clean Monday. The market opens at 10 pm on Sunday and runs until the last seller sells the goods, which usually happens around 3:30 pm the next day.

Octopus, calamari, squid, cuttlefish, round and long crabs, lobsters, shrimp and oysters fill the stands. And there is a sea of people around who look and compare quality and prices before deciding what to buy.

"These are holidays when people buy products for the first day of Lent. We have agreed that the market will be open all night so that everyone can buy everything. There are many people whose work does not allow them to go to the market at other times. These are products that are consumed the next day. All prefer to buy them in advance to have time to prepare them," tells one of the sellers, while weighing half a kilogram of a kind of hard shell clams. According to Costas, the tradition the market to be opened on that night is too old, and this year's flow of customers is very large.

"This is due to the fact that it is more difficult to the people to decide to go somewhere for the holidays this year. The price of petrol and tolls are high, and I think that many people preferred to stay in Athens and spend the holiday here without losing time to travel."

It is 1 o’clock at night and the market is so crowded by people as in Saturday morning. According to Costas, the customer flow will be so intense throughout the night. "There are people going to celebrate in a restaurant now, others are going home after a party, and others will wake up earlier to come to the market."

The large customer flow at night, however, could be explained with a very important fact. Commodity prices gradually fall around the first hours of Clean Monday to rise again a little later.

Nikos and Elena with full bags in their hands told GRReporter that they go to Varvakeios Agora each year at night. "Thus we are sure that we consume the most fresh products, and prices are better. Why not buy octopus for 12 euros per kilo, when tomorrow the price will be up to about 15 euros?"

For other, older aged customers going to the market is a tradition not only for purchases but for the very atmosphere. "I come every year on this night. I like the hustle and raised people's spirits," told Mr. George.

While leaving the fisheries sector the customers were going consistently to the small shops offering pickles, roe-spread and halva - also specific for the dishes in the first day of Easter Lent.

Most people commented that the prices are good and the data of the Ministry of Regional Development show that this year's holiday dishes will be 4.32% cheaper than last year’s.

When I left the market at about 02:30 pm the Atinas street that passes in front of it was traffic jammed as in a workday rush hour. Children in carnival costumes accompanied their parents, many sellers and customers contributed to the cheerful atmosphere openly enjoying the market uplift.

When I asked "How will you stand until tomorrow afternoon," some shrugged and others responded with a smile "like we do it every year." All, however, were very pleased with the turnover and with the fact that the Greeks did not fail to follow the tradition this year despite the crisis.


Tags: SocietyVarvakeios AgoraPurchasesEaster LentSeafruit
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