Sunday, September 9, 2012


So, as promised in last month's Naschmarkt post, here is a post devoted to Miletička, Bratislava's (semi) outdoor produce market. It's a wonderfully funky place, with a lot of that endearing Bratislava/Eastern Bloc brand of grittiness (complete with a canopy that blends old sheets of corrugated steel and canvas tarps). Finding the produce may initially be tricky for some, as it's literally ringed by hordes of vendor stalls selling worthless garbage, funeral flowers, and cheap designer knock-off handbags and tacky clothing. When it's not the dead of winter, the place is a madhouse, particularly on Saturday mornings when it appears half the town is there getting its produce. We try to make it out there when we have time.

Obviously, Miletička is the place to get fresh locally grown produce. All of the basics are covered, depending on what's in season. Terezia's manager, a Slovak-Hungarian from Nitra, actually knows some of the vendors and even haggled with them in Hungarian when she went there with him to do some shopping for the ambassador.

Right now in September you can find mountains of sublimely tasty peaches and nectarines, heaps of nice looking grapes, fresh herbs, colorful assortments of melons and squash, piles of tomatoes, and more plums than anyone could possibly know what to do with (Slovaks love their slivovice).

You've also got people like this guy below, who sells sauerkraut in a variety of ways, including stuffed into bell peppers, as well as vendors selling products like paprika and honey.

Miletička can also boast of a good butcher shop, a bakery, as well as a stand that sells some nice looking poultry, including duck and goose. There are a slew of smallish Slovak pubs at one end, as well as a small Chinese joint with a menu that's quite heavy on the fried entrees (fried food figures prominently in the Slovak diet), as well as a langoš stand - langoš being fried dough slathered in garlic paste, cheese, and sour cream (see this post for more on langoš).

However, I do think it's too bad that Miletička is so far away from the historical center, because an increasing number of tourists really dig these kinds of markets, as they offer an authentic slice of local flavor and culture. Aside from Vienna's central Naschmarkt, Florence has both the Mercato Centrale and the non-touristy Mercato Saint Ambrogio in its historical center, to name just a few examples. Not that Miletička really needs more people cramming into its already crowded aisles on a busy Saturday morning, but it would really enhance the overall Bratislava experience from a tourist's perspective.

Getting to Miletička from the center of town requires hopping on the #9 tram and taking it out toward the Ruzinov district for about 10-12 minutes. It's far away from the charming historical center, in a grey and characterless corner of town that no tourist would ever have any reason to venture into.

How about opening up a second farmers' market in the Stara Trznica (old market)? It's a beautiful historical building by SNP square that housed exactly this kind of market during the first half of the 20th century, and which, frustratingly, sits empty and shuttered the vast majority of the time. The city apparently tried to host a market here several years ago, but I'm shocked and puzzled that they apparently weren't able to sustain it.

But at the time of writing this, there was one thing missing from Miletička's dizzying and colorful array of produce - figs!!! Despite the fact that fig season is in full swing this time of year (mid-September), I did not see one single fig. And I really scoured the place, even venturing all the way to the cramped corner at the rear that newbies probably don't realize exists.

And yet, right "next door", in Vienna, there is practically an explosion of figs at the Naschmarkt. What the hell?

As mentioned in my Naschmarkt post, figs are my favorite fruit, so I go totally cuckoo whenever fig season rolls around. Who would've thought that Jeff would move to a place where there are no figs?

There is a similar issue here with medjool dates which, when in season, I can find in abundance at Naschmarkt, but in Bratislava it's as if they don't even exist. Miletička also seems to lack the more interesting varieties of wild mushrooms (another passion of mine), like porcinis and chanterelles, both of which can be found easily at Naschmarkt, and the former of which I know grows in abundance in Slovakia because Terezia's parents go hunting for them every year.

But the fact that I have to hop over the border to Austria to find these things is truly vexing. Again, what the hell?

Why can't we seem to find figs in Slovakia? What do Slovaks have against figs? Is the Slovak palette simply not interested in them? Are figs too expensive? Are growers of dates and figs reluctant to penetrate the Slovak/Mileticka market? I can't imagine that geography or weather would make a difference, given that Bratislava and Vienna are so close and share the same climate. Fig trees, although right at home in Mediterranean climates, can and do flourish in regions with colder winters, so they could conceivably grow in parts of Slovakia. There's no real reason why they should be such an alien fruit here.

Terezia thinks that Slovaks just aren't into in figs. She recalls that you couldn't find them at all where she grew up (except occasionally only the boring dry pre-packaged ones), even after communism, and she has no recollection of anyone even talking about them. She never even had the chance to try them until she came to California.

Vienna is only an hour away, yet in some ways it feels like a world away in terms of the variety of produce and other foodstuffs that is available there. The iron curtain may be long gone, but there seems to be a culinary wall that's not been entirely knocked down yet.

But, at least Naschmarkt isn't too far away, and Miletička is still a great place for your more basic produce, so I shouldn't complain! I'm happy it exists, figs or no figs!

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