I like to experience as much as possible the local traditional cuisine and culture when I travel*. One of the best places to go to when you are new in any place is to check out the local grocery stall or market. The duality of local food and local market give perhaps the most authentic experience of the lifestyle of the locals.
The most highly recommended market for an authentic Vilnius visit is the Hales Market (although if the tourism board recommends that market specifically, you might want to be cautious about your purchases).
Despite the tourism pitch, Hales market is frequently still by many locals who hawk their waresas they have for over 5 centuries. It had three different names (Horse Market, Grain Market and now Hales Market) but was always a market at this location. The building itself is relatively young compared to the market location but is a triumph of early 20th century architecture.
This market structure was completed in 1906 a significant year in the history of Lithuania. In 1905, the Tzar in Russia (of which Vilnius belonged) faced a revolution by the peasants. While he successfully quelled the reovlution the disquiet led to liberalisation and opening up. Taking advantage of this, nationalist in Vilnius demanded concessions and were granted some including the use of Lithuanian language. While the market was not directly built because of this, its completion in 1906 with the latest in architecture – metallic structures with glass windows must have been a powerful symbol of a new day, a new future for the people of Vilnius and the Lithuanian people.
Bloody Sunday in 1905, essentially the start of the active part of the failed 1905 Russian Revolution
The market is made up of three rows of reataurants (two at the sides, one in the middle) separated by small stalls selling all sorts of preserved meats and sausages. To the outside, intrepid entrepreneurs bring their own produce to sell right under the nose of the supermarket (I highly suspect some of the items were purchased from the supermarket an passed off as fresh off the farm though).
Others were selling fruits and clothes, an extension to the market had even more family run stalls selling even more meats. being placed in the unfashionable part of the market, exposed to the elements must come with a cheaper rent I reckon.
Despite humans entering the digital age, there was still a lot of hard copy news to be sold. It’s hard to imagine this newspaper seller having a successor though, certainly not when print media is on the downward decline and Lithuania has the fastest public internet in the world.
The fancy restaurants and cafes were mostly clsoed by the time we arrived, but no matter. What we wanted to see was not the restaurants and cafes (those are a dime a dozen in every city from Copenhagen, to Stockholm, Oslo to Gothenburg), what we wanted to see was what the locals were selling. The first thing that caught my eye, since I was the uninitiated one in Europe was the variety of preserved meats on offered.
Well, more specifically, preserved pork. There were pork and beef sausages (that you could eat as is, didn’t know that), there preserved fats… “you will feel like you have to run the whole of the day to not die from extra high cholesterol” said my colleague. I took a greedy look at the preserved fats and looked away like a monk looks away from women, can’t. be. tempted.
Well just, because we ended up trying the sausages instead. We probably ate as many to have to work out a whole day too though.
Now most people probably visit markets of supermarkets so it made sense to visit both. With a supermarket located close to us we stepped first into the supermarket to check out the food. There was a variety of meats, salads and breads (?, I have no idea) that I’d never seen in Stockholm let along Singapore.
But there was obviously some things that were Lithuanian, such as the abundance of pork, beet, and candies/sweets of all sorts.
Even in more modern surroundings, some things about palates and diets don’t change. The Lithuanian love of pork, sausages and cakes for example
*It’s not always that easy to find traditional local food in every city you go to. Many cities develop fast and because of globalisation and similar societal development trends, the local cuisine may not be as popular with the locals then maybe healthier food. It’s really hard to find an affordable Swedish restaurant in Stockholm for example, which tends to present a logistical challenge when people have friends coming to Stockholm.
ON THE MAP