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the undefeated dolac market
in zagreb

Dolac Market

View of Dolac Market, Zagreb

Croatia's raw ingredients are exceptional in quality.  In the Roman empire, Croatia was second only to Italy in importance of olive oil and wine production.  The fertile Istrian peninsula produces high quality olive oil (as good as anything we tried in Italy) and sheep's cheese.  The Dalmatian coast is justifiably world-renowned for its plump sweet figs.  The cauliflower we purchased in Zagreb was sweeter and tastier than any cauliflower we've tried before (so says Patrick, who generally finds cauliflower bland and insipid).  We picked oyster mushrooms by the pound for only $2.00 USD, and marvelled at the texture and flavor of these hearty mushrooms.  Kiwi fruits were sweet and slightly tart and brussel sprouts crunched when roasted.  Truffle products abound and fish and meats are fresh and cut thickly.

Figs at Dolac market Figs hung at Dolac Market
Dates at Dolac market Kiwis at Dolac market

Figs, dates, and kiwis at the Dolac market

In 1930, Zagreb opened the Dolac Market as a way for farmers to bring their produce into bustling Zagreb.  This is, in itself, not surprising; public markets were opening or expanding all around the world in the early 1900s.  The Mercat de Boqueria in Barcelona had its permanent roof put in place in 1911, the huge Los Angeles Farmers Market opened in 1934, and the large Testaccio market in Rome opened in 1912, and so on.  I haven't read any articles on why there was a rush to build farmers markets in this time period but I surmise that the pressure of World War I and the Industrial Revolution pushed people into cities and those city dwellers needed access to the agricultural goods that they previously grew and ate in the countryside.  Hence, farmers markets opened all across the western world. 

Peppers Zagreb

Peppers strung up at the Dolac Market

No, what's surprising about the Dolac Market is that, when it opened in 1930, Zagreb and Croatia was part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia).  At that time, 75% of the Yugoslavian workers were employed in agriculture, and most of those individuals were subsistence peasants, living off what they grew.  As the Great Depression's cold fingers spread across the world, most of those peasants realized that they could not live on their farms and flooded the large cities of Yugoslavia.  The nearby Axis forces of Hungary, Germany, and Italy quickly overran Yugoslavia and split the country amongst themselves though resistance forces battled hard for independence.  After World War II ended, Yugoslavia had lost one million people to warfare and concentration camps, and joined much of Eastern Europe to become a Communist government.  In the early 1990s, after the fall of East Germany and the U.S.S.R., Yugoslavia went through another round of brutal warfare as the country split into Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia.  Through all this turbulent history, the Dolac Market stood.

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 Cauliflower at the Dolac market  Brussel sprouts at the Dolac market
Trinkets at Zagreb market Radishes

Sweet delicious cauliflower, brussel sprouts, local handicrafts, and radishes

Today, Croatia has fervently embraced capitalism.  It has the largest supermarkets we've seen in Europe, massive warehouses with bright fluorescent lights, aisles and aisles of pasta, vegetables, meats, fish, and cheeses, imported from all across the world.  If you want organic food, Indian spices, Mexican tortillas, Thai curry sauces, or Italian cheeses, head to one of the Billas, Kauflands, Konzums, Lidls, or the massive Mercators.  Nobody needs to go to the market anymore because supermarkets are as prevalent in Zagreb as they are in most U.S. cities.  Yet, people still shop at the Dolac market.

Onions at Dolac Market

Oyster mushrooms Cheeses at the Dolac Market

Onions, oyster mushrooms, and fresh cheeses at the Dolac Market

Carolyn Steel presents the fascinating argument in her TED talk about how food shapes cities that by mass commercialization of food sales, we effectively lose interest in food preparation and food consumption.  In other words, when we shop at farmers markets, we create a personal relationship with the people who sell our food which forces us to care about the food we buy and cherish that food rather than discarding it.  On the other hand, because grocery stores are impersonal, food becomes impersonal and we do not worry as much about wasting or buying prepared food because we lose the connection to the raw ingredients.  As supermarkets take hold of an economy, we stop shopping with the farmers.

Dolac Market

Dolac Market

It's a difficult argument when you look at this market in Croatia.  Every morning for 80 years, farmers have woken, brought their produce and meats to this place near Ben Jelacic Square in central Zagreb, and sold their produce to the milling populace.  Through a monarchy, Nazi-controlled regime, communist state, and capitalist democracy replete with enormous grocery stores, rules changed, governments came and went, but the food is and has always been here.

03/27/2012 08:22
Rupa
How interesting to read about local food against the historical, political and sociological backdrop, great article, Akila! I love roasted and sauteed brussel sprouts - yum! Happy shopping and eating - as ever! Rups
03/27/2012 15:24
Beautiful photographs of the market - everything looks amazingly fresh and delicious. I've watched a lot of TED talks but have never seen the one you linked to here - going to watch it later on.
03/27/2012 23:15
An interesting post with gorgeous pictures!
Rachel's recent blog post: History and Travel
03/28/2012 00:03
I always try to visit markets in the places I visit. They give me an unique fealing of the places I am visiting. I particularily like the market on Granville Island, Vancouver.
03/28/2012 06:54
Love the pictures, my fav is the red chilli one .. the post is interesting as usual...going thru your posts is like watching my fav serial amazing race and the consequent armchair travelling:) :)
shilpi banerjee's recent blog post: Kerala Chicken Stew
03/28/2012 15:57
I love food market shots, these are fabulous!
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures's recent blog post: My Beautiful Adventures Announces New TV Show: Episode One — Hong Kong
04/13/2012 12:24
Thanks Andi!
Akila's recent blog post: budapest: the low-down
03/29/2012 18:20
I too love food markets. Your pictures sure tell the story about this market. I love the one with the old scale! They also make me wish I had some of those fruits and vegetables now. They look so very fresh!
Debbie @European Travelista's recent blog post: Wiesbaden- Worth A Second Look?
04/13/2012 12:23
Thank you so much Debbie! Yeah, I'm a bit of a market junkie, and I love that not only do they have the old type scales sitting at the Dolac Market but they actually USE those old scales.
Akila's recent blog post: budapest: the low-down
04/02/2012 10:56
Chetan Sankar
Through your travel you are finding elements that bind people together (for example food irrespective of religion, race, or ___ism); what an amazing discovery. Having spend my life teaching and learning about machinery (and the impersonal nature they bring to the populace), I am learning about the importance of food and farmers through your post.

Love,
Dad
04/13/2012 11:40
Thanks Dad! Food binds us all together and farmers are the heart of our world --- every time we meet someone who puts food on the table, I am amazed by all they do to ensure that the rest of the world stays nourished.
Akila's recent blog post: budapest: the low-down
04/04/2012 04:32
Akila, this is such a wonderful piece about Dolac and market culture in Croatia! Your observations really struck a chord with me. When I first moved to Zagreb, I often shopped at supermarkets because market shopping was fairly new to me. I occasionally went to farmers' markets at home in the US, but I was really nervous about interacting with vendors at the open-air markets in Croatia (trying to speak Croatian, ordering in kilos, etc.). So, it seemed easier to go to Konzum, where I didn't have to talk to anyone. But, as your gorgeous photos have shown, produce at the open-air markets is so much better. So I finally started shopping at Dolac and my neighborhood market, and I can't believe it took me so long. Now, I love talking with the vendors, finding new foods, and sampling produce. I'm even cooking more, which is a huge deal, since I typically try to avoid the kitchen as much as possible.

Again, awesome post, and thanks for the lovely photos and little history lesson!
Elaine's recent blog post: Branko Izadra and Learning Croatian
04/13/2012 10:04
Thank you so much Elaine! And, you exactly proved my point --- whenever I shop at a market, I want to shop and cook more because I want to use those spectacular goods that so-and-so sold me. Dolac Market is a particularly nice one and you're definitely lucky to live in a city with such a great market.
Akila's recent blog post: understanding hungarian wine

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