The legendary Odessa market attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. Poets, historians and criminals have roamed it’s fabled premises. Books and art exhibits are dedicated to it. It’s called the “King of Markets”.
The first market appeared in Odessa within a year of the city’s existence – in 1795. However, the now-famous Privoz did not appear until much, much later. At first, it was merely an offshoot of the Old Bazaar – it did not have any of it the stands or storages sections for which it is now known. Merchants would bring their goods by carriages, and sold them right out of those same carriages. In fact, this is where the market got it’s eponymous name: “privoz” being a form of the verb “privozit”, which means “to bring in a vehicle”. In 1827, the territory of the Privoz was already being prepared to transform into a fully-functional market. The first major constructions on the site appeared in 1913, starting with a designated “Fruit Pavilion”. The location of the Privoz was optimal –it was outside of the city center, close to the railroad, had convenient entrances and ample space for expansion. It quickly, it became the primary market in Odessa – a city whose existence has always revolved around commerce. However, the main unique feature of the Privoz was not its size or its wide assortment of goods, but rather the people who gave their soul to it. Most believe that it is here that the famous “Odessa jargon” was born, as well as the archetype of the Odessite as a cheerful, witty, sharp natural-born salesman who loves to haggle and always comes out on top. Any guest of the city who wants to hear the “Odessa dialect” or experience the authentic Odessa temperament should head straight to the Privoz.
However, the relationship of native Odessites to the Privoz is in no way uniform. Some are proud of it, and some also despise it. Many – like myself- have a love-hate relationship with it. This is not surprising, seeing as the Privoz is a place where all the best and worst parts of Odessa are concentrated. Everyone sees what they want to see. The beautiful and charming side of the Privoz – a friendly and memorable people, laughter, a carefree atmosphere – is its most well-known side. And with good reason, because for the most part this what the Privoz is about – unique people selling unique goods. Where else can you taste dozens of distinct varieties of farmers’ cheese, buy freshly harvested mussels and overhear the artfully crude jokes of loaders as they knock back a few beers? Simply visiting the Privoz can be an instant mood-lifter – one often leaves with a warm feeling. Especially for the city dweller, the contrast between the grey office monotony of ordinary life and the authentic kind of communication taking place in the Privoz can have a very positive effect. The Privoz is a living, breathing entity – and it is often the place where new Odessa jokes, proverbs, and aphorisms are born.
Any Odessa will tell you that no supermarket in the world can compare to the Privoz in terms of the quality and variety of its goods – especially the food! The Privoz supplies nearly all of Odessa with delicious and healthy food – and Odessa is a city which holds food in special reverence, creating a culinary cult. The Privoz assortment is sure to satisfy the tastes of even the most demanding gourmand. While recent years have seen an influx of “plastic” greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables, the Privoz still boasts a thriving farmers’ market – one can still buy plump, sweet Mikado tomatoes, Moldovan peaches, and farm-fresh eggs with a bright golden yolk.
During the habitual deficits of the Perestroika years, only the fortunate were able to shop for food at the Privoz. Those who were hit hard by the economic crisis had to brave the lines at the supermarkets. Someone who could afford meat instead of bones, cheese and cold-cuts instead of margarine and processed bologna, headed to the Privoz where delicacies could be found even during those very tough times. Even people with limited funds would sometimes scrape a few rubles together to buy their favorite foodstuffs and to indulge while trying to forget the hardships all around them.
Some basic Things to remember at the Privoz:
- Keep an eye out for the item you came for – it’s easy to get distracted
- Take your time when examining the goods. Remember that it’s the seller’s job to CONVINCE you.
- I haggle, therefore I am!
- Choose fruits, vegetables and other food items yourself. If the seller doesn’t let you do this – find another seller.
- The “evening Privoz” opens at the end of the work day – you can enter it from the side of Preobrazhenska street. The prices can drop drastically as sellers seek to get rid of product they failed to sell during the day.
So, with all these positive traits, what possible reason could someone have to dislike the Privoz?
Unfortunately, it should be acknowledged that it’s unfiltered nature means that you will run into rude and negative people as often as you will meet cheerful and pleasant ones. People often say that the Privoz is the number one destination if you want to be lied to or cheated. Some people even seem to accept this – especially tourists who take it as an expression of some sort of romanticized, criminal charm associated with Odessa. Deception and a benign sort of rip-off are the market’s calling card. Who hasn’t seen the online ads saying “Shop with us – the other guys will rip you off even more!” Some salespeople go as far as to write “real weight” on the price tags. I can give an example from my own recent experience: one price is written in large numbers on the bright price tag, but once you pay and realize that something doesn’t add up the seller helpfully points out the tiny words “bulk price” written under the numbers. “The customer is always right” is an adage that not all of the sellers at the Privoz take to heart. The less hospitable salespeople are usually not the provincial farmers who come to the city to sell their wares, but rather the local businessmen, traders in bulk who usually do not make the friendliest impression. It’s very easy to understand the Eastern proverb which says “It is easy to be a saint at the top of a mountain, but it is tough to remain a saint at the market”. Still, one always hopes to encounter more saints than swindlers in their daily life.
Thankfully, the rude salespeople are not the only ones in the Privoz (although they do sometimes manage to single-handedly spoil a positive experience). There are many wonderful people – locals and hard-working provincials, friendly, charismatic and talkative. They will give you a bargain price, make you laugh and pose for photos, sharing some of their warmth and positivity. Often, you can meet this type of seller in the dairy part of the Privoz. It’s difficult to buy dairy products in bulk – this is why they are usually brought to the market early in the morning by babushkas and country girls, who quickly don their aprons and instantly begin to promote their wares – cottage cheese, goat and cow milk cheeses, sour cream, buttermilk, and of course fresh milk.
Of course, even when dealing with babushkas from the countryside, one can still run into interesting situations. I’ll give another personal example: my friend was once looking to purchase some veal tongue for her baby. She received a lot of advice telling her to find the most “country-looking” old lady at the market and buy the meat from her, as this would guarantee its local sourcing. She followed the directions and found a very authentic grandma, who swore up and down about the freshness of her meat – going as far as to cry while saying how the calf licked her with this very tongue just yesterday! My friend was sold. But when she got home to cook the tongue, she discovered the “Brasil Export” brand on it…
In order to avoid situations like these, loyal Privoz shoppers often have an “inside man” in the meat, milk, and fish sections. They phone the seller in advance before their visit and fully believe that the best product will be set aside for them. It’s difficult to say whether or not this is really the case – but Odessites continue to believe this. Everyone want’s to feel like an insider.
The market’s disorder and less-than-ideal organization – especially in the food sections – contributes both to its charm and its negative downsides. For those who prefer a more organized experience, the New Market is located in the very center of Odessa. It can be described as a more formal, organized Privoz. However, because of its organized nature, it loses a measure of innate charm – it lacks the charisma and the Eastern-market noise and mystique of the Privoz. If the Privoz is a raging sea, the New Market is a calm, quiet port with somewhat higher prices. Everyone in Odessa chooses according to their predilections.
Still, the Privoz remains an absolute must-see tourist destination. This is the “other” face of Odessa –uncensored and unorganized, but absolutely indispensable to the unique charm of this beautiful city.
Overheard At The Privoz:
Two saleswomen are talking
“How’s your daughter? Married yet?”
“No. She’s like my sausage – they try it, they compliment it – but they don’t take it…”
A customer talking to a fish seller:
“Is it fresh?”
“Don’t you see? It’s still alive!”
“Well, you know…my wife is alive too, but she’s not that fresh anymore…”
A price tag at the Privoz reads:
“1 watermelon – 13 hryvna. 3 watermelons – 40 hryvna.”
A customer asks for one watermelon, pays 13 hryvna, and puts it away. He repeats this process two more times and tells the seller:
“You are not very smart. I just bought these three watermelons for 39, while your price tag is selling them for 40.”
The seller responds:
“Oh, another one! They all buy three watermelons from me at a time, and then they try to teach ME how to sell!”
“Can you tell me, what did you feed this chicken?”
“I’d like to get that skinny, too.”
“Sara, dear, where are you going?”
“To the Privoz.”
“But we don’t need anything”
“I’m just going there to argue!”
A woman is shopping for sausage at the Privoz. The saleswoman chimes in:
“Sweetie, just smell it! This isn’t sausage – this is French perfume!!”