Farmers’ Markets in Armenia: An Experience Not To Be Missed!
The shugas (farmers’ markets) in Armenia are so much more than just a place to get fresh and local produce. I see every trip to the shugas as an adventure, and I never leave them without some story to tell.
There are many different types of shugas in Yerevan alone—some of them are weekend markets, some operate everyday, others begin at 4a.m., and there is the infamous one that is open 24/7, where you are expected to buy produce in bulk.
Photo by Allegra Garabedian
Always A Reason To Toast
The one closest to my house is considered the Malibu Shuga, and goes on every weekend, until it gets too cold, although this year it has been running well into the snowy season. Just about a five minute walk from my house, I usually go to pick up some delicious fruits and vegetables, like apples, carrots and cabbage, and always buy spicy pickled peppers from a man who always notices if I miss a weekend (and guilts me a little). Without fail, every time I pass the “alcohol area”, where you can find vodka made from every fruit imaginable in sizes you didn’t think existed, and all types of wines possible, I am offered the former, regardless of the fact that it is usually the morning. When I politely refuse a shot of vodka and chalk it up to it being 10a.m., the vendors tend to then suggest some wine, which sometimes works.
Even when I’ve stopped by to pick up just one item or two, I’ve always ended up staying much longer than I’ve planned. Sometimes due to debates on what the “correct” Armenian word for eggs is, other times as a result of explaining my entire life story as a spurkahay (Diasporan), other times due to bring asked if I am married and then offered a son/cousin/brother’s hand in marriage, and sometimes because I’ve been offered a taste of whatever a vendor was selling, and told a story behind it.
It is definitely not the place to shop if you have efficiency on your mind or if you are in a rush, but the experience alone should trump both those reasons and encourage you to make time, or acknowledge that efficiency does not always have to be priority. At the shuga, there will always be some vegetable, fresh or dried fruit, alcohol, bean or herb that will surprise you, a person who will tell you a story or a joke you will never forget, and there will – more often than not – be an incredible show of generosity and warmth.
The one a little further from my house, the incredible and vast Gumi Shuga, is open every day, and is a great option for monthly shopping. There is the indoor version, where you can find Syrian and Iranian spices, olives, dried fruits, home-made vinegars, alcohol, and the “meet your meat” butcher area, where you have no choice but to see meat and animals in an honest and face-to-face fashion.
Then of course is the outdoor market, where you will find farmers from every region in a hectic rush to sell out their produce. The outdoor version is not for the faint of heart, and should be visited only when you are prepared to experience a smoke-filled environment with farmers and customers screaming about what they have or what they need, with everyone trying to get in and out as fast as possible.
While the shugas are always a great way to see what local produce Armenia has to offer during every season in all the regions, it’s also a place I’ve learned to let time go, enjoy the moment, and have a morning genac (toast) just for the sake of it. While supermarkets may be calmer, cleaner and more organized, the Armenian shugas are an experience not to be missed!
Which farmers’ markets have you visited in Armenia?