Friday, October 2, 2009

The Latvian Meat Market

No, the title of this entry doesn’t refer to the dating scene in Riga. I’m talking about a place that actually sells fleshy edibles like pork, chicken, beef, and lamb; a place I stumbled across during last weekend’s trip to the middle child of the Baltics. As an adoring fan of European markets, I’m no stranger to seeing whole (as in, not headless) dead birds, various types of hooves, and other animal proteins displayed in ways that are foreign to most American shoppers. But nothing, nothing, could have prepared me for what I saw in Riga.

After perusing the fruit and vegetable stands of an open-air market just outside of the city’s Old Town, I made a left at the watermelons to find myself in an expansive, barn-like building filled with nothing but meat products. Entire skinned pigs hung on hooks behind the counters, animal heads were casually displayed, and refrigerated glass cases were filled to the brim with all manner of chops, loin, tongue, and steak. Butchers methodically did their work in the open as sellers packaged up the finished products. Shoppers filled their baskets with a week’s worth of dinners. The smells, sights and sounds were overwhelming.

I wandered the market’s never-ending aisles in a semi state of shock, mouth agape, breakfast barely staying down. A vegetarian I am not, but even the enthusiastic omnivore in me left Riga’s meat market with an uncomfortable, unsettled feeling in my stomach. I had never before seen so many dead animals in one place. But hey, that's what traveling is all about: seeing things you've never seen before. And although my gag reflex might not have appreciated the visit, the part of me that enjoys exploring different cultures definitely did.

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