Athens Portraits [2]: Laiki man

12 Nov 2023
If you really want to get a taste of a country, you have to head for its outdoor markets. And in Greece that means the local weekly laiki (common) market.
It’s there  amid the mountains of locally-produced fruit and veg, cheek-by-jowl with stalls piled high with knock-off designer bags and clothes  that you will find laiki man.He is one of the many players in the theatre of the laiki. And its a heady and colourful set against which he plays his part.The market is a treat for (and sometimes an assault on) the senses. Crowds jostle, trolleys trundle, hawkers shout each other down in contests to grab your attention and veteran buyers examine the goods and haggle over prices.
The air is filled with the sweet scent of ripe seasonal fruit; the sharp aroma of fresh lemons; the pungent twang of huge purple onions the size of a hand or heads of garlic like a fist; and the heady smell of dried local herbs.
And putting the cherry on the top of that intoxicating cocktail of smells are the souvlaki sellers grilling a constant parade of skewered pork cubes over hot coals from daybreak till traders and shoppers alike surrender to the midday sun, pack up and go home.
The feast for the eyes is no less seductive. Shiny fat black aubergines nestling next to their slimmer mottled mauve cousins, plump red tomatoes, scarlet peppers shaped like horns of cornucopia, and a veritable rainbow of fresh flowers, plants and herbs.

Here, laiki man is in his element. And he’s as 100% locally produced as the fruit and veg he sells. Whether he’s a moustachioed giant with a belligerent belly or a wiry tanned chancer with a cigarette permanently clamped between his teeth, he’s as authentic as they come. There’s no sophistry in him - he is the Del Boy of the Greek stage.Despite having been up since before the crack of dawn, he’s always ready for banter or a good-humoured argument about football. And he’s always on the look-out for a chance to rake in a little extra profit. No sooner does his neighbour start shouting out a new reduced price as the end of the market hours approaches, he will shout out even louder an even lower price, and a well-rehearsed spontaneous war of words will ensue before they sell-off the last of their wares and pack up before parting like brothers.They’re all convinced of the superiority of their produce or at least they’re very convincing. Theirs is the sweetest, the freshest, the firmest, the juiciest and if you don’t believe them, they’ll cut open a sample so you can try for yourself.You can forget pretentious overpriced delicatessans, or the clinical anonymity of the supermarket shelves.

Good food, fresh food, real food, is all about authenticity and passion and laiki man is brimming over with both.  


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