As a kid I always went vegetable shopping with my mum. It was a glorious Saturday ritual. We’d leave the car outside Lusaka’s vegetable market and venture into the green alleyways. She’d carry two huge brown baskets, one in each hand, I’d carry a smaller one, and we’d cover all the stalls one by one. Our Saturdays drastically changed when the big one-stop-shops arrived; suddenly there was no need to go to the market and we didn’t mind.
When I moved to Zagreb, we spent the first weekend exploring the streets. At the centre of the city we came across a terraced market, busy and ripe. It was at that moment that I realised just how much I missed being in the middle of a crazy crowded market. There was something so organic about the place that I fell in love with it.
Dolac is situated right behind Zagreb’s main square. Duck behind the big statue, walk past the flower stalls and over a flight of stairs. Standing there is the statue of a bronzed peasant woman, welcoming you to Zagreb’s belly.
The market is sheltered by traditional red umbrellas. Under the shade traders and peasants from farming communities around Zagreb set up business. Their skin is sun burnt and palms are rough; one hand waves the flies away, the other negotiates a better deal. These men and women bring their best produce and a little bit of their character to the market – some flirt, others fight, either way the get the job done. At intervals, a younger face pops up behind the stall. Bored teenagers trying to make an extra buck, or pitching in, sit on uncomfortable chairs, chewing gum. Unlike the older lot they show little enthusiasm when approached by a customer. They conduct the transaction in that zombie-like manner all teenagers master.
The market wears an intoxicating aroma during the summer with the clashing berries and melons., both of which I highly recommend. All the produce is arranged in colourful little piles and shabby hand written price cards are plonked in between. The monotone is broken by stalls of homemade honey, wine and olive oil. The bottles catch the sun at great angles and add a bit of glamour to the plain tables.
A meat and dairy market operates on the lower level in the market hall. The hanging chunks of meat, iced cuts and stacks of homemade cheese make for a very strong and not-so-pleasant aroma. I don’t visit the lower levels much. I prefer to stay out in the open. Shoppers can also find fresh sea food here. Of course the fishy stink is strong, but if you fancy some squid for dinner, there is no better place to shop.
Standing along the edge of the market are a number of food and handicraft stalls. Here you can try traditional Croatian delicacies like burek (a cheese or spinach stuffed pastry), sir i vrhnje (cottage cheese and sour cream) and prsut (air dried ham). Or browse through traditional costumes and embroidered goods, handmade wooden toys and purchase souvenirs like the red and white gingerbread hearts.
The market was set up in 1930 on the site of a rundown housing estate. These slums were deemed an eyesore by city planners; they were considered far too ugly to occupy such a prime spot in the city. Soon, the property was razed and the tenants were moved. And in their place a flourishing market was established. Back then Dolac was considered amongst Europe’s modern markets. Today it represents a traditional way of life.