A little earlier I wrote a post about shopping in Kazakh supermarkets. We can get most of the items we want from those supermarkets but I tend to find that certain things are better bought from the bazaars.
When we first arrived I was surprised to find that the quality of fruit and vegetable in the supermarkets is fairly low and that the prices are expensive. I asked our housekeeper where she did her shopping and she directed me to go to the bazaars.
There are a few to choose from, the best are the Centralni (which is on the way out of town not in the Centre as one would expect) although that suffered a fire recently, Eusasia which is more like a mall with a lot of small independent shops and Artyum, a cross between a bazaar and a shopping mall, which is my favorite place to go. Artyum is not anything like a bazaar of one’s imagination. It holds no echoes of the Moroccan Souks, the Istanbul Grand Bazaar or even the bazaars we used to visit in Diyarbakir. It is a large, square, concrete edifice close to the centre of the old town. The first time I went there I prepared for disappointment but this changed as soon as we walked inside.
|Ground floor of Artyum Bazaar
The ground floor has three corridors of small shops which are lined with food stalls. There is a meat market with the meat displayed underneath pictures of the animal of origin. I do not buy meat there, however, as I am never certain how long it has been since butchering and it does not always look or smell fresh. The small shops sell all sorts of dried and packaged goods, from cereal to instant noodles, juice to sweets. The real benefit to shopping here, however, lies in the stalls that line the rows outside the shops. These sell fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the year. While the supermarkets seem to carry old, poor quality specimens the stalls always have a good selection of high quality produce. The stall holders are very friendly and will usually allow you to choose your own so you can be sure of avoiding the rotten pieces. They go to a lot of trouble to display their wares in interesting patterns and spray them regularly with water to keep them looking fresh and tasty.
|Friendly stall holders display their wares
It always surprises me when some expatriates complain about the poor variety of fresh ‘greens’ in the winter months as, other than salad I have never found them difficult to buy. Herbs can be difficult to source and expensive to buy in winter but I have followed the suggestion of my housekeeper and buy them at the end of summer when they are plentiful and cheap and then store them in the freezer. Artyum is a good place to practice Russian, the stall holders will happily give you the proper Russian or Kazakh name for any of the vegetables if you ask. One stall holder I go to regularly even tested me each visit to see if I could remember what she had taught me the last time.
|The stalls are beautifully set out
Interspersed between the stalls selling fresh produce you can find stalls with dried fruit, spices and pulses. I usually pick up some dried chickpeas to make hummus and some dried fruit for a family snack. Kazakhstan has brought the concept of dried fruit to a whole new level. Of course we can buy the usual raisins and sultanas, dried apple and apricots but we can also buy dried pineapple, peach and kiwi.
As you reach the back of Artyum there is a ‘gardening center of sorts. Plants from the florists are expensive but some really beautiful plants can be bought here for about 1/3 of the price. A lot of the gardening stalls sell seeds and I think I will buy some kitchen herbs and possibly some cut and come again salad to sow next winter.
|Artyum's Garden Centre
The second floor (Kazakhstan follows the American rather than the European floor numbering tradition) has a range of shops selling homeware, small pets and pet supplies and shoes, there is also a wide range of shops that sell Kazakh souvenirs. These range from decorative (!) plates and rather tasteless statues of horses and the Baiterek to the distinctive Kazakh felt work. We bought our vacuum cleaner here and the place is such a warren that every visit turns up something new. I was over the moon on my last visit to find a shop selling hide chews for dogs. Our poor girl has been putting up with carrots instead of chews since we arrived here. She is very fond of carrots which do just as good a job of cleaning her teeth but I know she does not find them as satisfying.
|Souvenirs of Kazakhstan
The third floor is full of fashion shops selling clothes for men, women and children. You can get evening gowns, lingerie, suits and sports ware. In the winter it is possible to buy Shubas (fur coats) for half or even one third the price of the shops in the major malls and some of the shops sell the beautiful fur hats that most women here wear over the winter. The debate on fur rages heavily in Europe and America but here in Kazakhstan it is seen as the most practical material to cope with the cold as it is both warm and windproof.
The upper floors carry a range of furniture, craft shops and beauty salons. The furniture in Artyum is mostly Chinese imports and does not always appeal to western tastes. Furniture is expensive here in Astana and the bazaars are about the only place to get any at prices I would consider approaching reasonable.