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The markets of Athens: crisis management at its best

The markets of Athens: crisis management at its best

Marie Lecocq - 2012-07-20

Let’s forget about financial markets for a moment… and (re)discover those of the Greek capital: the perfect place to loosen those purse strings!

Given the present economic tempest, Greece hopes to weather the storm thanks to tourism. Indeed, the tourism sector represents no less than 15% of the country’s GDP. The merchants of the capital have been trying to avert disaster by slashing prices. Shops from Plaka to the laiki (farmers’ markets) are where you can find the best bargains and help bolster a sagging economy.
The Monastiraki flea market
Definitely the most famous market in Athens. Between the Monastiraki and Thissio metro stations along Ermou and adjacent streets, knick-knacks, furniture and Greek curios of past decades are piled up in front of jam-packed display cases. Real treasures can be unearthed here on Sunday mornings: kitsch icons; bouzoukis; unusual Greek objects such briki, small pots used to make coffee the old-fashioned way; and kartoutso, those colourful metal wine pitchers typical of the tavernas. Sellers sit patching up their finds as shoppers work their way through the jubilant disorder. It’s Ali Baba’s cave, Greek style.
The shops of Plaka
Small boutiques line narrow Adrianou St., which runs parallel to Ermou, in this picturesque quarter of the capital nestling at the foot of the Acropolis. It is the perfect place to amble along under the cooling shade of shop canopies after a visit to the Parthenon under the blazing sun. All manner of souvenirs are on offer: earthenware gods of Olympus, cookbooks full of Greek recipes and those tavli boards upon which Greek backgammon is played from the terraces of the capital to the beach bars of the Cyclades. Boutiques selling clothing or shoes and the many jewellery shops have noticeably lowered their prices since last year.
No, not the archaeological site where Socrates defended his philosophy while pacing about, but the city’s vast covered market. At approximately 500 metres from Monastiraki square along Athinas St. is the Varvakeios. This colossal neo-classic structure with a glass and metal roof is much more than a simple food market: it is a veritable lesson in Greek gastronomy. Along with the dozens of stands of meat, fish and seafood sold at unbeatable prices are a handful of tavernas where tasty little traditional dishes simmer before your eyes. Connoisseurs come here for meals they can’t easily find elsewhere, such as pig’s trotter soup. A few metres away, in his very old family restaurant Diporto - a place Athenians know well - Dimitri transforms the contents of your shopping basket into traditional fare. He also offers a summary menu that changes daily.
The Piraeus market
The capital’s large harbour is the departure point for all excursions towards the Greek islands, and naturally it too has its market. To catch the best of Piraeus’s inimitable atmosphere, you’ll need to go to market early while the freshly fished treasures of the sea are swiftly displayed before just as swiftly disappearing into the shopping baskets of the milling throng. Every day except Sunday, fruits and vegetables, spices and other aromatic preparations complete the offerings of the deep. There’s also a flea market around the metro stop.
Laiki, the popular farmers’ markets found in every quarter of the capital, are a great reason to leave the tourist zones behind once or twice a week. In laiki, one can discover the daily life of an Athenian neighbourhood, mingle with the local population and purchase regional products at the best prices. The tidy lines of magnificent fruit and vegetable stands attract amateur photographers who tend to shoot away under the amused gaze of locals. A real pleasure for the eye and the palate where olives, oils, dried tomatoes, honey and less typical products are all sold for a song. Laiki are the places to go to stock up on provisions for a Greek-style picnic or a delicious tzatziki.

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