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Bizarre Bazaars | Shopping in Kyrgyzstan

Osh bazaar, Ortosai bazaar, Alameddin bazaar, Town bazaar, Dordoi bazaar… Every corner of Bishkek has its place to shop, and every town in Kyrgyzstan has its central market, either open every day or exploding into an empty lot once a week. 

Like many places, Kyrgyz markets are ablaze with colors and sounds.  Often overwhelming to a first-time visitor, all senses can be inundated with the abundance of available goods.  It seems strange that so many shops can offer exactly the same thing, but gradually it becomes evident that each place seems to have its unique distinction.  Bread from one place may have a slightly different texture than bread at another.  The fruit from one stand always seems to be fresher, or the prices on almonds a little less from this other seller.  

With time, my favorite lady for homemade feta cheese and yogurt starts to give me a discount.  She speaks slow, friendly Russian, asking about my family and work.  I make sure to stop and chat with the woman who sold me my blankets when I first arrived, even if I don’t need to buy anything.  The industriously creative baker at the heart of the market is irresistible - there is always space in my bag for something from her.  And as I pass his stall, the honey man remembers me from my visit a month ago! 

Shopping at the grocery stores seems lifeless in comparison to the banter, camaraderie, and relationship of the market.  Plus, it has become so easy to do my shopping without accruing any extra bags!  I reuse the small veggie bags to contain goods for weighing, then stuff everything into reusable bags.  A seller's patience with my adamance on this practice contribute significantly to the likelihood that I will return to them!

Understandably, the apprehension of busy, narrow aisles and the challenge of language can be dissuading for visitors to these bustling markets.  At the end of the visit, however, it is almost a guarantee that you’ll feel fuller - bursting with connection, confidence, and perhaps a few delicious treats that were too enticing to pass up as they passed you by.



-by Ruby Mitchell, Online Content Editor @ WLTC

The Old Man and the Seeds

In the spring of 2018, I went to Alameddin bazaar and discovered a charming little table of seeds, each stowed in an old cloth bag, all signs handwritten in printed Russian letters. An older man stood nearby, shy but knowledgeable. As he lifted handfuls of each seed, it seemed that his hands and those seeds were deeply acquainted, like old and dear friends.

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