Five faves: Riga Central Market

Five faves from Riga Central Market

Whether we’re at home or traveling, Marlon and I love to visit markets. Because we stayed at a self-catering apartment in Riga, a trip to the Riga Central Market became a necessary part of our visit, as well as a different insight into the city. Once we ventured beyond the pastel prettiness of the Old Town and stepped across the railway tracks to the market, Riga truly started to get real.

Spread out over five former Zeppelin hangars, the Riga Central Market was Europe’s biggest covered market when it first opened in the 1930s. Today, it’s the nerve center of the city, where people come to buy daily essentials—including, of course, food. Here are five of my fave finds from the Riga Central Market.

1) LATVIAN BREAD.

Riga Central Market bread

In my previous post, I mentioned how good Latvian bread is. (Side note: read this lively account of a baker’s trip to Riga, in which he enthuses that “the best old-world Jewish baking is in Riga.”) At the Riga Central Market, we discovered Latvian bread in all its various forms and hues, from fluffy white loaves to the deepest, darkest rye bread.

But the best of them all were these crunchy, savory bread chips from Latvia’s most famous bakery, Laci. I got seriously hooked on these!

Riga Central Market black bread chips

Of all the things you can do with stale bread, deep frying it and tossing it in a secret mixture of herbs and salt has got to be the best—and the most addictive. Move over, potato chips… bread is where it’s at!

2) SMOKED FISH

Riga Central Market smoked fish

One entire pavilion at the Riga Central Market is dedicated to fish, and I’d say about 2/3 of everything in that pavilion is smoked.

Riga Central Market smoked fish variety

Smoking fish is a big part of local food culture, and here we saw all kinds: fish smoked with garlic, peppers, herbs and spices…

Riga Central Market smoked fish with peppers

even smoked caviar, which formed a kind of chewy jerky.

Riga Central Market caviar jerky

Marlon and I love our smoked fish—as a child traveling to India, I once carried daing and smoked tinapa in my handbag on the flight—so we bought some for our dinners at home. Although our preference would have been to eat it with a heaping plate of hot rice (of course), instead we flaked some smoked mackerel over a big salad with vinaigrette on the side. Yum!

CHEESE

Riga Central Market smoked cheese

Latvians don’t only smoke their fish—they smoke their cheese too. We tried some of the smoked cheese, but I really loved were these soft cheeses crusted in different herbs and spices. My favorite was the cheese at the bottom, which is covered in a curry mixture. If you’re going on a picnic in Riga’s main city park, this with a salty-savory cracker would be perfect.

PICKLES

Riga Central Market pickles

I was once a girl who fished pickles out of burgers and left them on my plate, uneaten. Pregnancy changed my relationship with pickles forever, and now I love them!

Next to smoking, pickling is a favorite technique at the Riga Central Market. With all sorts of pickled fruit and vegetables ranging from your usual gherkins to beets, tomatoes, whole heads of garlic, and even slaw (also known to us Pinoys as atchara), this is pickle paradise. Pregnant women, take note.

FRUITS AND BERRIES IN SEASON

Riga Central Market cherries in season

Latvia is densely forested, with 47% of land covered by lush, green forests. This makes wild berries and fruits abundant, and picking them is a popular summertime pursuit. While we were there in July, these big, bright red cherries were overflowing from market stalls and sidewalk vendors around the city. At less than €5 (Php300) for a kilo, they were super cheap… and Tala loved them, too.

Is that five things already? Okay, this is not a foodie find, but always a favorite: FLOWERS!

Riga Central Market flowers

Flowers from Riga Central Market

IG-Baby's breath from Riga Central Market

Latvians love flowers. There’s even a 24-hour flower market in Riga—you know, for urgent flower needs, such as those 2 a.m. lovers’ quarrels or 5 a.m. train station goodbyes. Our visit to the Riga Central Market ended with a walk past these colorful flower stalls, which was a nice way to leave.

Apart from watching locals go about their daily business, the best thing about the Riga Central Market is that everything is super affordable. I even spotted some bouquets for as low as €1 apiece! I definitely recommend it if you’re in Riga on a budget—and even if you’re not, it’s a chance to experience Riga, for real.

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NeighbourFood Market

It’s no secret that I love my neighborhood. Among my friends, I’m the unofficial Westerpark Tourism Bureau—I’m always trying to get people to come over to one of the many cool things happening just around the corner.

We are so lucky to live right next to a park that hosts not one, but two awesome weekend markets. On the first Sunday of every month, there’s the Sunday Market; and every third (or sometimes fourth) Sunday, there’s the NeighbourFood Market.

Neighbourfood Market table

With long communal tables, grandma’s living room furniture and homey flower arrangements, the Neighbourfood Market has a warm and friendly community atmosphere. The setting is extremely baby- and child-friendly; seeing young families with babies just like us, Marlon and I felt reassured that moving here was the right decision.

Neighbourfood Market communal table

Neighbourfood Market vintage chairs

Neighbourfood Market Vedett deck chairs

The shared seating makes it easy to start a conversation, so we got to meet people who live in our neighborhood. And that’s really nice. Admittedly, growing up in Manila has made me me suspicious of most strangers, so I’m never the one starting a conversation—but once people talk to me I’m too polite to say no. Then if I decide the person talking to me is totally un-creepy, I’m happy to open up. I don’t bite, promise!

Casual eats in Amsterdam tend to be all the same (read: sandwiches), so I always jump at the chance to have something different. And variety is something that the Neighbourfood Market has for sure. It was tempting to run around trying to eat everything, but I had to remind myself that I live here and that I can try something different every month.

Neighbourfood Market Baq-fiets

Neighbourfood Westerpark chocolate and cookies

Neighbourfood Market Branco bread

The stalls seem to be mostly home cooks and small businesses, with quite a few of them run by expats and immigrants. From Mexican tacos to Vietnamese bun cha, South African style meatballs to American baked goods, it’s a fairly diverse selection. I even had a Singaporean curry puff, although the spice level was adjusted to Dutch palates. Still, it was a nice reminder of my morning walks to the office past Killiney Kopitiam and afternoon escapes to the curry puff stall on Killiney Road. Now if I could only find a good char siew bao

Neighbourfood Westerpark Mexican Vietnamese

Neighbourfood Market meat

We’ve been watching Tala for signs that she’s ready for solid food. She has never shown any interest in our meals, but yesterday she suddenly lurched toward my blueberry cinnamon bun. Looks like someone has inherited her mother’s taste buds!

Tala and the cinnamon bun

And if you want to take away more than just a few extra pounds, the NeighbourFood flea market allows you to bring home a piece of the homey vintage atmosphere.

Neighbourfood Westerpark flea market
I love exploring weekend markets. Is there a good weekend market where you live?

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Market day

Our little family is beginning to find its rhythm on the weekends. Mornings are slow and lazy, with everyone—including Rogue!—staying in bed for Tala’s first feed at around 7 or 8 a.m. After we have breakfast and coffee in bed, Marlon gets to do what he’s been itching to do all week: cuddle Tala and play with her while she’s still adorably fresh (read: not fussy or tired).

This frees me up for an hour or so of me time, in which I go back to sleep, enjoy a long hot shower, or take my sweet, sweet time getting ready to go out. Going back and forth over what to wear (not that my nursing-friendly wardrobe leaves me with a lot of options), blow-drying my hair, putting on eyeliner—all of that really relaxes me. Never underestimate the therapeutic power of clothes and makeup!

Then we head out for lunch and a walk, with Tala falling asleep in the stroller. I love exploring our new neighborhood and finding new things to enjoy. This week, we found the perfect chai tea latte and carrot cake at Small World Catering, a deli style shop and tiny (often packed) cafe on a street corner in the Jordaan…

Chai and carrot cake

… which we enjoyed in a rare seat in the sunshine, always a tough thing to find on a beautiful spring day. Tala graciously let us finish lunch and dessert before demanding her own meal. Look ma, no nursing covers!

Sitting in the sunshine

Then we strolled down one of the prettiest canals in Amsterdam to the Lindenmarkt, which runs just behind the popular Noordermarkt. While the former is more of a regular neighborhood market, the latter is a farmer’s market with organic and specialty items.

Lindenmarkt tulips and cheese

 

Aside from being open on Saturdays, both markets have another thing in common: an abundance of tulips and cheese. How very Dutch indeed!

How was your weekend?

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Monschau Christmas market

For Christmas markets near Amsterdam, there are a few usual suspects: Cologne, Aachen, Osnabruck and Muenster, all within 2-3 hours from here by train or car. There’s also Valkenburg in the south of the Netherlands, as well as Maastricht in Belgium.

So I had never heard of Monschau until our German Airbnb host mentioned it. Going with a local’s advice is always a smart thing to do when traveling, so after our visit to the Aachen market, we thought… why not?

It turned out to be a great spur-of-the-moment decision! The 45-minute drive from Aachen was like driving through a winter wonderland (check out Monday’s post for lovely snow photos). And Monschau itself, a small town nestled deep in the North Eifel hills, is absolutely charming.

Monschau half timbered houses winter1

Beautifully preserved half-timbered houses (like those in Limburg aan der Lahn) line the banks of the Rur river, which runs through the town.

Monschau half timbered houses winter2

Monschau half timbered house winter

Monschau’s Christmas market is distributed throughout the winding streets of the Old Town, with a small indoor market for those who want to get in out of the cold. Most of the town’s shops and cafes stay open through the weekend (rare for Europe!), so there’s more than just a few market stalls to explore.

Monschau Christmas old town

The whole town seems to have been taken over by Christmas, creating a wonderfully festive atmosphere that can make anyone feel cozy even in the cold. (A little bit of fur and snuggling helps, too.)

Furry creatures

There are plenty of fun finds and delicious treats to be had.

Long Santa hat

Flaming marshmallow drink

But for me, the Monschau Christmas market is not as much about eating, shopping or drinking. Where the magic lies is strolling through this incredibly picturesque town, occasionally looking up at snow-laden rooftops, white-tipped trees, even a castle on a hill, and allowing yourself to be delighted by all the charming details along the way.

Monschau Christmas old town2

Monschau Christmas snowmen

Monschau Christmas decoration

Monschau trees with snow

I’d say the only drawback is that you need a car to get here, but it’s well worth it for a fairytale Christmas unlike anything the bigger, more train-friendly cities (such as Cologne or Aachen) can offer. I think this is my favorite Weihnachtsmarkt experience so far: intimate, picturesque and right out of a Christmas storybook. I’m already looking forward to next year.

A small travel tip: Leave your car parked by the Gymnasium, or high school; then take the Park & Ride bus service to the market in the Old Town down in the valley. Remember to drive slowly as you approach Monschau, so you can spot the Park & Ride signs!

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Minimalist Nativity set from Germany

One of the Christmas traditions that Marlon and I both grew up with was the belen, or Nativity scene. It was easy for us to agree on having a belen in our home during the holidays—what wasn’t easy was finding one that we both liked. Most of the Nativity sets we saw (in the Philippines and Germany) were either too old-fashioned or elaborate for our tastes.

Well, after nearly five years, the search is over! We finally found our minimalist nativity set last weekend at the Aachen Christmas market.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene1

I was browsing with my friend Leslie in a store called Käthe Wohlfahrt, which sells traditional German Christmas ornaments. As soon as I saw this hand-carved wooden belen, I fell in love. Clean, simple, no fuss—just the way I wanted it. I brought Marlon back with me to see it, and he was equally charmed.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene3

The small size is perfect for apartment dwellers like us. Though the figures are tiny (no taller than my pinkie), they’re all mounted on one piece of wood, making them less likely to be misplaced. They have a young, Playmobil kind of feel that I like… suited to the kids that (I think) Marlon and I still are in many ways. Plus, it fits this year’s minimalist theme at home, too.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene2

Part of what made our belen search difficult was my tendency to be particular about faces and expressions. These ones, I like. They’re fairly neutral without being dead, and cute without being cheesy.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene-Mary and Baby Jesus

This scene doesn’t include the Three Wise Men, but that isn’t a huge deal. The shepherds and angels were the first on the scene anyway. Besides, I couldn’t resist these tiny adorable sheep!

Hand carved wooden nativity scene-sheep

Our little family is still figuring out and making up its Christmas traditions, but now this minimalist Nativity set has become part of it. I’m happy that this year, another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place with a quiet click.

Did you grow up with a Nativity scene at home, or do you have one now? I’d love to hear about it!

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