The public market of Chania
A public market is an open-air space where agricultural products are sold directly by producers, as well as other food and non-food items, at low prices in order to serve consumers.
In the People’s Market there are fruits, vegetables, honey, oil, tsikoudia, wine, nuts, juices, animals (unfortunately, dead animals are still allowed to be sold in the market), olives, pickles, sour cream, cheese, milk, milk derivatives, and more products.
In general, the flea market has a long history over the years.
The concept of the public market started for the whole of Greece on May 18, 1929 and since then it has been operating continuously except during the occupation period. It was accepted by the citizens, who bought cheap and fresh products, but also by the producers who made their fresh products available directly to consumers, without the intervention of middlemen who profited at the expense of both consumers and producers. Very soon the public markets were embraced and spread throughout Greece so much, that no one had imagined that this institution would have such a great impact. Producers, until then, only sold their products to middlemen, as a result of which there is an informal monopoly, and many times the middlemen overcharged the producers, as well as the consumers. The institution of the public market was therefore an incentive for producers to start collecting cash, as opposed to middlemen who paid them with long-term credits.
The first public market in Greece was set up on Saturday, May 18, 1929 in Athens, in Thision Square. The preparations on the part of the Ministry of the Interior were intense and numerous because the state wanted and supported this process of selling agricultural products, as the middlemen had become a scourge and the financial crisis of Greece was visible at the end of the tunnel. Thus, it was a matter of prestige for the Ministry of the Interior to establish and succeed in this institution. The middlemen, on the other hand, threatened the producers that they would cut off their cooperation if they took part in the layoff. It was so important to establish this institution, that even the Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos himself went to Thisio, took a “zembili” and bought products from the laika, which he then gave to a poor lady. But also high-ranking officials such as the Minister of National Economy did not miss an opportunity to be photographed buying citrus fruits, and the mayor of Athens buying vegetables and potatoes. They also advertised the low prices that the products had, thus giving consumers an incentive to visit the street. This is how the institution of the laika began and within a year it had spread to almost all the cities of Greece, and of course to Chania as well. Of course, over the years, the institutional framework was modified several times, but in the minds of buyers, the belief that public markets are cheap, have fresh and healthy products, and there is a wide variety of prices and goods was established.
Daily program of Chania’s popular markets
The street markets are a tradition for the residents of the city of Chania.
In Laiki we can find things that are often not found in department stores, while they are always freshly cut and freshly packaged and immediately available to the customer. The customer buys directly from the producers and there is an immediacy, and of course a different approach compared to stores. The products are branded, because we shop from the specific farmer, at the specific counter, and not from the anonymous crate of the department store. So, if a product does not satisfy us, we can discuss it with the producer, while at the same time they are much cheaper than department stores.
When we shop, the producers have a culture of absolutely discounting the total price, putting extra products on the customer for free, the scale weighing much more than what they charge, and all this without the customer asking, since it’s in the way that farmers trade with buyers.
Let’s keep in mind that for many years now, the farmers of Laiki, through their association, have been sending products to various institutions in Chania, which need them.
A visit to the laika is a social event, because we meet friends, acquaintances, relatives, and there is a communication that often did not exist for many years.
Every day except Sunday, a different neighborhood hosts a street market, which is visited by many Chanians, many tourists and visitors, regardless of age and income. The street markets of Chania are an experience worth living for anyone who wants to get to know the real image of the city.
In Chania, the public market operates every day from early morning until 2:30 p.m., except Sundays, as follows:
Monday in the Courts area. The exact road that becomes the public road in each region changes depending on the season.
Tuesday in the Mournies area, Sokratous and Androutsou streets.
Wednesday in the Pahiana area around Margouniou Street.
Thursday in the Nea Chora area around Patriarchou Ioannikiou Street
Friday in the village of Kolymbari. The road that Laiki becomes is always stable.
Saturday in the Koum Kapi area on Minoos Street, which is stable and does not change during the seasons.
During the period of the Corona virus, a public service operated simultaneously every Saturday on Akrotiri Street to relieve the congestion on Minoos Street.
The largest and richest public market in Chania is the Saturday market on Minoos Street. Spread across the entire width and length of Minoos Street, located in the old town and very close to Koum Kapi, with ancient walls on one side of the street and narrow alleys on the other, it becomes a magical experience not only for shopping but also for to admire the walls, the alleys, the Asia Minor buildings.
It is full of producers and traders who set up their stalls and sell their goodies.
How they works
From very early in the morning, at 2, 3, and 4 in the morning, they start setting up their stalls. Minoos Street is buzzing with life and movement, the economically weaker ones pay workers from Bangladesh to help them set up the stalls, set up the awnings, unload the cages and place the products, while the more organized come with the their staff and are more autonomous.
By the time they finish fitting and get their cars off the street, it’s dawn and consumers are starting to come in to shop. The street is filled with movement, colors, aromas, tastes, voices! It is a very beautiful moment if we could capture it on paper, but the best proof is the visit to the village to feel the pulse of the countryside that carries its culture to the center of the city.
The farmers of Crete and especially of the Prefecture of Chania, try very hard to cultivate the land, to collect its fruits and vegetables in cold, rain, hail, snow, hot sun, they are faced with weather disasters e.g. . snows that break the olives and lose the crop, hail that marks the oranges and they go to the dump, attack of nymphs that destroy the almonds, worms that enter the cherries, diseases that dry up the apricots, almonds, and other trees, worms that penetrate the potatoes and become unfit for sale, etc.
The smallest producers have small stalls, badly written prices on paper from boxes with pens that are tapped several times to show the price, and when they need to change the price because the time has passed, and they have to “sell out”, they turn upside down the cardboard and write the new price.
Μy experience as a street market seller
I remember when I was a child, we used to collect all day the “mayana” fragrant pears full of flavor and deliciousness, we would climb some very high wooden ladders to reach the trees, we would collect them, we would put them in big crates, we would take them to the sorting area, we would put them on cloths, we would choose the biggest and most beautiful ones, and put them in wooden “cages”, with great care and attention, making sure to put the big and beautiful pears in the cages in order, while my mom yelled at us not to the ripe ones, because they were so fragile, that by the time they reached the consumer they melted… We used to tell the family, literally but also metaphorically, that the good apidis is eaten by the pig. But they had an aroma… a taste…!! these pears together with the “contules” were the tastiest pears I had ever eaten!! The process of going to the market was a whole ritual especially for us children who at the age of 5-6-10 would make such a huge trip, we would see many people, we would see the city, we would sell our beautiful and fragrant pears. We would start at 12 midnight and arrive in the city around 1-2 in the morning, secure our place on the street and sleep in the farm car until 3-4 in the morning, and start setting up our “shop” ». We had crates full of pears, we had a scale that weighed okadas, (the okada is 1282 grams) and the okada drams, which were like today’s grams of the kilo. Each oke made 6 to 7 drachmas (0.02 euros per oke, i.e. 0.015 euros per kilo of pears). We always had prime “Mayan” pears, and we always sold all of our stock until the lay ended, and sometimes we ran out earlier! These pears were a variety from the time of the Turkish occupation, only 2 pear trees had survived and from there they grafted new trees and the production increased. These pears no longer exist, as in the spirit of globalization their aroma was sacrificed on the altar of durability.
Once we had a bottle of 5 okades (7 kg) of oil in the farmer’s cart, and by the time the folk song was over, returning to the car, it had been stolen!
Many times after this all-nighter, and the whole day’s suffering, on the way back, my dad would fall asleep and we would stop on the way to rest and sleep for a while, get strength and continue driving to our village. This process happened every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday! The rest of the days we collected the pears, put them in crates, transported them with horses and donkeys to the packing point (about 2 kilometers away), chose the best ones and packed them to take them to the market the next day!
But for me, the laiki was the joy of life, it was a wonderful fragrant experience!! The producers were shouting as they displayed their wares, their faces reddened from cold or heat, but full of life and energy to try to sell their wares and return home, after they would have made their customary stop at the town’s shops, to procure the necessary things for their home.
I learned to buy produce from the small vendors who had ugly looking produce but knew it was full of energy, vitality, strength and no chemicals or fertilizers. So every time I go to the market even today, I prefer traditional producers who sell a few products, as much as their garden or orchard produces. How to tell them: The street vendors’ stalls are standardized, the prices are beautifully crafted, the packaging materials are commercial, and the placement of the products is masterfully laid out on the stall. The producers’ stalls are poorer, they may have a variety of products but in small quantities, uneven sizes, the prices are written on cardboard or paper boxes, often misspelled, with a marker or pen. You will understand them by their authenticity, by their Cretan stockiness, by their furrowed foreheads that face all weather conditions in the fields, by their kindness and kindness at the same time. We will understand it from their calloused, cracked and blackened hands, from the dirt and jobs. When we see such people, they deserve to be supported by buying from them to help them support their families with dignity. To those people who are heroes with the adversities they face every day, we owe it to them to respect their prices, and to pay with joy for their offer to bring us from different places and regions their fresh products to enjoy in our home, and keep in mind that in order for the products to reach the people, a preparation of at least 15 hours is required, in addition to the time it takes to collect the products, which means after returning home, they are back in the gardens to collect new products for the next day’s lay.
In the public markets of the city of Chania, there are also producers with organic products!!! Organic farming is not a way to get rich, it is a culture and a way of living and farming. If a disease occurs in the plants, the organic farmer, if he cannot treat it with an approved organic product, leaves it without chemical pesticides, and eventually loses it.
Organic products are delicious, healthy, nutritious, full of vitality and energy. They have certifications from various official agencies and the growers are people with a conscience and a spirit of environmental protection and recycling!!