Wedged between Skopje’s old Bazaar and a busy boulevard is the city’s colorful and chaotic Bit Pazar.
Once confined to a single building, over the years the market’s tentacles have spread into the surrounding streets and alleyways.
And make no mistake, these are no T-shirt and tourist-trinket shops; they are pure produce pandemonium at its finest. The narrow, fruit-and-veggie crammed aisles guarantee the opportunity for travelers to rub elbows (literally) with the locals.
The Bit Pazar’s Facebook page calls itself a “farmer’s market,” but I think this name seriously shortchanges the place.
I find it hilarious that when the Turkish Bit Pazar is translated into English, one of the translations is “louse market.” That’s louse as in flea.
Local markets always offer a revealing glimpse into a country’s culture, and they’re a routine stop for us when we travel. Unlike big box and high street stores, local market vendors have to focus. They don’t have the luxury of stocking hundreds of items with hopes that someone might be interested. Staying in business means offering what people need and are willing to buy. So a trip to the market gives travelers a good opportunity to see what locals need, want, and what’s important to them.
When we visited Macedonia it was pepper-harvest time, and in this part of the world that means ajvar (pronounced “eye-var”).
We quickly developed an addiction to this tasty spread made with roasted red peppers, eggplant, garlic, oil and vinegar. A healthy dollop of the hot variety, slathered on a slice of crusty, brown bread, ignites fireworks on the tongue and a glow in the heart.
Peppers and all the makings for ajvar were the most popular items for sale, and competition was brisk. Some enterprising merchants had a convenient, one-stop solution with all the necessary ingredients attractively displayed and readily available.
In addition to all the fabulous color and frenetic pace, we spotted a few novel, smile-inducing sights. The cucumber seller wins the artistic produce award with his fanciful, green pyramid.
In the creative recycling category there are two entries: beer-bottle and soda can scoops and peppers in pop bottles. And how could tomato juice be any fresher than when slurped right from the tomato … with a straw?
Local markets are a joy, and Skopje’s was particularly fun. Depending on when you go, the crowds can make for a bit of dodge-and-weave to get around, but that just adds to the festive atmosphere.
Everyone we encountered had a smile and a nod for what were obviously a couple of lookers rather than buyers, but that didn’t seem to matter. A trip to Skopje wouldn’t be complete without a fun foray to the Bit Pazar.
James & Terri