by Paul Rochford
BELGRADE – Long sections of green fence surround rows of tables brightly decorated with hundreds of varieties of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and cheeses. Zeleni Venac, one of about thirty outdoor “green markets” in the city of Belgrade, is a unique landmark of the city’s food culture.
Even in February, Sonja, a vendor who for the past five years has occupied a booth at the Zeleni Venac, stands under the market roof in the heart of the city selling her beans, peas, garlic bulbs, and dried plums. “All my food, and the other food here is grown in the small villages just outside of Belgrade,” she says. “Everything is grown here in Serbia.” The food is fostered in climate-controlled greenhouses in the winter and summer alike.
Darinka Saranovic gets her groceries biweekly from the Zeleni Venac, only a five minute walk from her apartment. She says that Belgrade’s green markets are the “only places in the city where you can get certain ingredients that are key to traditional Serbian cooking.”
According to Saranovic, handmade specialty dairy products unique to Serbia such as kajmak (pronounced Ki-mack) – a creamy and mildly fermented Balkan spread, and Sjenica cheese – a white brined sheep’s cheese, are some examples of foods that are crucial to the national and regional cuisine that can only be found at the green markets. Other examples include the famous handmade Serbian paprika spread (Ajvar- pronounced Ivar) and certain breeds of potatoes.
Will the rise of supermarket grocery stores in the city ever interfere with the economy and popularity of the green markets? Saranovic believes the answer is a hard no. “There is something special about the green markets here that can’t be matched by the large commercial grocer companies like IDEA, or Shop & Go”, she said.
She asserts that shopping at the green market is an integral part of Belgrade’s community life: “[The vendors] are reliable sellers, I know them and can count on them every time. Here you develop personal relationships with the people who sell you food.”