Macedonia / Travel

Cradles to Cucumbers, Peppers to PJs: Skopje’s Bit Pazar Has It All

Shoppers 1

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.

Mixed PeppersAnd 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.

Shoppers 2

The Bit Pazar’s Facebook page calls itself a “farmer’s market,” but I think this name seriously shortchanges the place.

ClothingYes, the market’s predominant products are meat and produce, but it’s so much more: blue jeans to beans and fancy dresses to fake tresses – if you need it, they have it.

Fake Tresses

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.

Cradles

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”).

Ajvar

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.

Ajvar Ingredients

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.

Cucumbers

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?

Tomato with Straws

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.

Shopper

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. 

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

46 thoughts on “Cradles to Cucumbers, Peppers to PJs: Skopje’s Bit Pazar Has It All

    • You gotta try this stuff Anita. We found ajvar here in the states so I’m sure that you can find it in your area. We buy ours in a Mediterranean grocery store. It’s made and exported from a number of Balkan countries, and comes in mild, med, and hot. I also love the cucumber pyramid. ~James

    • Tricia, it’s funny that neither of us were particularly fond of peppers before our trip to the Balkans. While there, we experimented with peppers in all forms, and became converts. We even came home and made a version of our own ajvar, as well as searched it our in our local grocery store. I’d say we’re hooked. ~James

    • Aren’t those cradles neat Laura. As I said to someone else, when was the last time you even saw a cradle, let alone a handmade one. And the word on the cradle: “Mashallah,” is something I haven’t heard since our Sudan days. It’s an Arabic word … actually “Ma Shaa Alla.” It literally means “It is God’s well”, but it’s usually used when you see or feel something really good and you are thankful for God for that. Probably more info than you needed, but that’s an interesting backstory. ~James

  1. Wonderfully colorful – both text and photos. I love local markets (except the meat sections!) and this one is a beauty. I think I remember a previous post about ajvar and now that you’ve prompted my memory, I’m going to see if I can find some here in DC. I know I would love it.

    • Thanks Lexie. We found ajvar here in Lexington, KY, so I’m sure you can find it in multi-cultural DC. Look for a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern grocery store. And to let you know how fired up (pun intended) we were about this peppery perfection, the first thing we did when we got home was to try and make our own version – which included smoking our own peppers and eggplant. It was good, but it turned into a labor of love, which gave us even more appreciation for the commercial jars just picked off the grocery shelf. The preparation process was documented as grist for the ol’ blogging mill, so you’ll hear all about it in the future. Let me know how you like the ajvar. ~James

    • Thanks Tess. This market was particularly colorful and photogenic. The pepper-harvest and the sunny days had taken over every balcony with strings of drying peppers, and the market was over run. ~James

  2. The basics for food. It’s such an inviting part of travel, isn’t it? I suppose there is also a cultural element – I bet there is an etiquette to picking out the cucumbers you want to buy. (You better not have your eye on the nice big ones on the bottom row) -Susan

    • I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it Susan. Not only is this pyramid eye-catching, it’s also clever inventory control. Old stock on the top, new stock on the bottom, and etiquette as well as fear of toppling the entire thing forces folks to buy the oldest stuff first. Ingenious no? ~James

  3. I love to wander through local markets when we travel. Well usually, there was that meat market in Athens with the goat heads that was a bit over the top for me. At any rate I am certain I should love to buy a baby cradle at the louse market. Possibly not the bedding though. 🙂

    • I’m with you on the meat department Sue. Usually, the meat is all in the same area so it’s easy to skip. And even if I have to walk down an aisle, I must admit to watching my shoes a lot. One interesting thing that we noted in Skopje was that there were no pregnant women on the street. Not sure if it was just luck, or a cultural thing, but it was something we noticed. ~James

      • James I did a quick internet search and apparently in 2014 there was a warning for children and pregnant women not to be outside in Skopje due to smog concerns. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the lacking of seeing pregnant women but thought I would pass it on.

      • Thanks for the info, but FYI when we were in Skopje, there were no problems with smog. In fact, just the reverse, so they must have cleaned up their act.~James

  4. Another great market. Thanks for sharing, I can’t get enough of them.Those cradles are fabulous. Each market seems to have its own flavour and uniqueness.

    • Anne, as markets go, this one was a dandy. The only complaint that I had was that you couldn’t buy just an apple or two, but you had to buy a kilo. But I did manage to buy a pound of salted spanish peanuts that had been roasted over charcoal (yum). I’m sure that I didn’t need a full pound, but what could I do? I didn’t want to offend anyone. ~James

  5. I love these kinds of markets, but I admit it is a HUGE problem for me to not buy, buy, buy.
    Peppers in a bottle … must have one!
    And those jars of ajvar? … yes, please! Maybe 2.

    • Joanne, after all these comments I feel like the ambassador of ajvar (umm, just came up with that, which may appear in a future post 🙂 , but if you like tasty, spicy spreads, you really should try ajvar. I’m sure you can find it where you live, and given it’s ingredients, it’s actually lo-cal and healthy. ~James

  6. “fireworks on the tongue…” Now you are talking my language. I saw several items in your photos that looked like they would warm things up. 🙂 And European Markets always seem to have such vivid colors! Fun photography! –Curt

    • You’ll definitely want to go for the hot variety Curt. I’ve tasted all three and it’s the best for our tastes. It’s spicy and hot, but not a tongue torcher. As I said, it was pepper harvest time and every balcony had a string or two of peppers drying in the sun. This visit made us converts. ~James

      • Reminds me of a town down in New Mexico where red peppers were hanging everywhere as well. Definitely the hot variety, the ones Peggy keeps a look out for in food so she will know to order something else. –Curt

    • I agree Martha. Local markets are not only fun, but they’re a perfect cultural snapshot. This Skopje market was one of the more colorful ones that we’ve seen, and the cucumber pyramid was a hoot. ~James

    • I love the fake hair photo as well Shelly; especially given the look of the two guys that work there. It was one of those fun compositions that just came together on its own. ~James

  7. I love visiting local markets when I’m abroad although the fish market in Madeira was a little whiffy for my taste. In England we call them flea markets, maybe that’s where the name came from,

    • We have flea markets in the States as well Marie, but for us, flea markets can have produce and food, but they mostly have yard sale junk and antiques (mostly more junk). But I must admit, that I have a hard time passing one up without at least a brief stop. ~James

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