Outdoor Markets of the Republic of Macedonia

by Sarah on September 4, 2010

Museum in Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje City Museum, The clock shows the time of the 1963 earthquake

When traveling, I always feel obligated to go to museums, after all, who would think of leaving Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel.  But after hours exploring magnificent exhibitions, endless rows of priceless statues, tapestries and paintings, I start to …. gosh I haven’t been this bored since age six waiting for the end of summer vacation.  The guide shovels information into my shrinking head and it falls right off on the other side. Museums make me sleepy, they are hushed, dark and brooding with the air conditioner always set to body temperature. In the History museum in Bulgaria I was looking at a seven thousand year old skeleton thinking that it couldn’t possibly be right. It must have been last month’s visitor who asphyxiated in the airless rooms, her last thoughts “just let me sleep, just let me sleep….”

but as soon as I am out…with oxygen in my brain I feel alive again, ready to boast to everybody that yes, I went to the municipal museum of Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia and anyone who didn’t go is really missing out.

The museums may show the county’s past but its heart is in the outdoor markets, not hidden behind a glass display case. It is here the senses come alive with the prodigal harvest of summer. Stalls are stocked with freshly grown or locally made products; fresh fruits and vegetables, wild herbs for tea, homemade yogurt in recycled soft drink bottles, jars of pickled grape leaves, white beans the color of ivory and rows of  imported Greek olives. With produce this beautiful just imagine what can be made from it, dishes that are nothing less than incredible.

Peppers, Macedonian open air market

Skopje Market, Macedonia

rice seller, macedonia

Skopje Market, Rice merchant

yogurt, Macedonia

Ayran, yogurt drink. Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje, Macedonia

Old fashioned scale in Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje, Macedonia

Braiding Garlic, Skopje, Macedonia

white beans, macedonia

Beans from Tetova, sold in Skopje, Macedonia

Debar, Macedonia

Saturday Market, in Debar, western Macedonia

White cheese, Macedonia

Sirene cheese, Debar Market

Road side stand, Macedonia

Road side stand, eastern Macedonia

wild herbs for tea

Herbs for making tea, Bitola, southern Macedonia

market, Bitola, Macedonia

Imported Greek Olives, Bitola, Macedonia

Bitola, Macedonia, market

"Take a picture of me!", melon merchant, Bitola, Macedonia

pickled peppers

Homemade pepper pickles, Bitola, southern Macedonia

But sadly what is served in many road side eateries in Macedonia is surprisingly lacking in flair. The menu consists mainly of grilled meats called sklara, spongy pizzas and a few salads. There is a limit to how much kebab one can eat, and when yet another waiter recommended their kebabchichi, we looked at each other and thought this has got to stop. Traditional food is made at home by mothers and grandmothers, and not something the local’s would go out to eat. When we did happen upon homemade cooking it was flavorful, rich and wholesome. Reason enough to postpone our travels just to have another meal. (I have yet to post about the food from Svetko’s kitchen)

Honey

Honey at the Debar Market

Although Macedonia is a small country is contains a variety of climatic zones suitable for growing a wide range of agricultural products. The southwest, covered with vineyards reminded me of Tuscany, cheese is produced in the alpine north- west, apples and plums are grown in the plains of the central area and the hardy white beans throughout. Beekeepers have decorated the country with their colorful blue hives, producing sweet gold in sunset hues, each with its own flavor profile. Many families supplement their food with large, well tended vegetable gardens. Some of it will be eaten fresh while the surplus will be dried, canned or pickled, to be eaten at home or sold. These jars of summertime are the most flavorful of all.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Yael the Finn September 4, 2010 at 2:51 am

Macedonia becomes so live in your pictures and post :-) Too bad that the restaurants there don’t have a bigger choice..

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Sarah September 4, 2010 at 3:34 am

Thanks Yael, There are traditional restaurants that are very very good, but you have to search for them.

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turkey's for life September 4, 2010 at 11:44 am

Wow, this must be a link to Ottoman times I suppose – ‘Taze’ (the word occurring in your photos is the Turkish word for ‘fresh’.) The photos could also be a market in Turkey. We buy our olive oil, pomegranate juice and the like from market vendors who sell it in plastic water bottles and Coca-cola bottles. We also buy the dried herbs (as in your photo) for making tea. The scales are exactly the same as on the Turkish markets AND we also buy pickled chillies in plastic bottles as in your photo. Amazing!

Loved this post – and I bet there’s not many people in the world who have blogged about Macedonian markets!! :)

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Sarah September 4, 2010 at 9:29 pm

There is still alot of Turkish influence- in the architecture, food and culture. They even have a Turkish Bazaar in Skopje where they sell great burek and candy coated chickpeas! There is a sizable population of Turks living in Macedonia (even after population exchanges of the past), the second largest Muslim ethnic group after Albanians. Most of them live in the western part of the country.

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Mimi September 5, 2010 at 11:13 am

From the comments above, I see that Israeli open-air markets are very similar to those in Macedonia and Turkey. Except for the yoghurt, the photos could have come out of shuk Ramleh.

Not every shuk is lucky enough to get photographed so beautifully, of course. I especially liked the man braiding garlic.

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Sarah September 5, 2010 at 11:27 am

thanks Mimi, They are similar, but quieter than in Israel. Something you can’t see from the pictures. Also it’s like Israel 50 years ago with the old fashioned weight
scales.

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5 Star Foodie September 6, 2010 at 7:07 pm

I would love to visit Macedonia and these amazing markets!

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OysterCulture September 6, 2010 at 8:32 pm

I love checking out markets and this one looks to be packed with treasures. What a treat and what an adventure. We you able to take back any food goodies?

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Sarah September 6, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I couldn’t bring back any fresh fruits but I did bring liters of honey and jam sold by the local women, truly delicious

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Bojan June 27, 2011 at 1:10 am

Great post. I am Macedonian and i really like how the author brought the bazaar life in Macedonia through these pictures. Honestly, i really like how the bazaars are right now, as a comment for what it was mentioned above by Sarah, stating that they are like in Israel 50 years ago. Macedonia would not be Macedonia, nor it would keep the spirit of something that was happening throughout these 500 years, and it is happening now – we are proud of the cultural heritage that we have, which is making Macedonia distinguished, old but modern, simple but rich. What i can basically say that no one should be surprised by the Turkish influence (and it is not that big now), because the Ottoman empire existed 500 years in this region. It is very normal to have the influence. The official name of the bazaar is the Old bazaar, not Turkish, but of course the Bazaar reached its peak in terms of the economy and it was created during the Turkish rule on the Balkans.

Great post again, i really love the pictures and i will definitely repost this link to some of my foreign friends and to my wife (she is from USA) She would love it!

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Tome February 17, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Wow, what a cool find. Macedonia, the non Greek one, is such a small country now. It was once part of a larger country called “Yugoslavia”. But, that country started to dissolve after the death of it’s leader, Marshal Tito who’s real name is Josip Broz. Macedonia held with Serbia for a long while, but sought it’s independence and achieved it.
Macedonia always was a poorer region than the northern regions and Serbia. It’s a region that was always rich in farming and produce, and of course, farming doesn’t make one rich, and thus this small and freshly independent country is still trying to pick itself up from the hand dealt to it by richer northern “states” of Yugoslavia.

I was born there in 1965 and my family immigrated to the US in 1970. The cuisine of Macedonia is based mainly on vegetables, grains, milk products, and many variations on bread/dough based dishes. There is meat for sure, but meat seems to be used in mainly in soups and stews as an added ingredient and not so much as the main course. Kebapi, also called kebapcina (little kebap), the flavorful skinless sausages that you’ve experienced, is a very popular food item. It is best when grilled and served with spring/baby/green onion, or raw chopped sweet onion, and a good hearty bread. BTW, grilled meat/food is called “skara”. Your article has “sklara”, which may just be a typo.
Big steaks and big hunks of meat, as we’re used to in the USA, are not the norm in daily eating.
Lamb is a very popular food, and is best loved when it is made simply, meaning very little added to it. Macedonian meat fare is typically quite simple in preparation when meat is eaten as a main course. Thus, there aren’t many fanciful recipes. This is simple food with simple preparation based on fresh ingredients when in season, and canned or pickled to be eaten during winter months. Most dishes highlight the natural flavor of the ingredients and not fussing too much with them. This is also a basic idea in Italian cooking as well. As some have said, Italian cooking is about the ingredients, and French cooking is about the technique and the chef. :) Macedonian cooking is more in line with Italian cooking.

One great thing going for Macedonia is it’s rich history, which is mostly a people who have lived under foreign rule for hundreds of years. Thus, modern Macedonian culture is a mishmash of influences from the mostly slavic based language mixed with words from the Turks, and Greeks, and ancient Macedonian. Europeans are starting to more and more vacation in Macedonia, mainly in the southern areas, and especially the beautiful area of Lake Ohrid. It is an old land that has had a LOT of foreign cultures come through and leave their stamp. This gives Macedonia a rich history with many ancient places to visit including the great number of some of the oldest Christian churches, which thankfully the Ottomans respected and let stand. I think Macedonia needs to further expand it’s invitation to the world to bring in visitors and tourists.

I’ve only been back to Macedonia one time after leaving as a young kid. I went with my older brother when I was 11, and haven’t been back since. Now that I’m older I feel I missed many opportunities to go and visit the land of my birth. I am planning on going in the very near future.
Thank you for taking the time to report on your positive experience, and helping bring this unique European country to others.

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Sarah February 18, 2012 at 12:05 am

Tome, Thank you for your comment. I believe the the Republic of Maceodonia will start opening up to tourists and business but I hope it doesn’t change too much. We stumbled upon a beautiful winery in the south-east, we could have been in Tuscany, it was that similar.

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Tome February 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Oh, one more thing. “Bazaar” derives from the old Persian, which was very influential to many middle eastern languages, Turkish being one of them.

In Macedonian, we pronounce it “Pazar”, with a “P” instead of “B”.

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