We’ve been waiting for a market like this. This was no Czech or Slovak affair, with a few overwintered root vegetables and a selection of plastic-skinned, Turkish tomatoes. Before those countries, in more promising places, it was too early in the year for nice vegetables. Arriving in the Eger market was like walking into a garden, with fruit and greens galore.
It’s probably just a shift in the weather, and nothing to do with geography, but the first day of Hungary and of the summer felt like summer in a way that we hadn’t experienced in a while. Even in the shade it was hot and dry, and it made us crave something crisper and more refreshing than goulash or schnitzel – a perfect time to wander amongst apricots, lettuces and flower stands. Though the longest lines were at the butcher counters, a general enthusiasm for produce was palpable in the air. It's easy to get excited about new growth, and about the familiar smells of foods that have been absent for months.
It’s cherry and watermelon season here. We bought some bruise-colored, tender, black cherries and stood on a nearby bridge, spitting pits into the Eger stream. Later, we ate cold “meggyleves” (cherry soup) at a café and talked about how wonderful June is.
It was nice, too, finding apples with spots and irregularities. The people who sold their goods here were selling something that they had been a part of – if not growing the fruit, than probably buying it directly from a farm or orchard. Outside, old women sat with a few pints of raspberries, calling out to passers-by.
There was a certain bizarreness to the upstairs food court, where younger people ate fried doughs and men bought ricey blood sausage for their lunches. Up above all of this fresh food, like a slick of oil above clear water, the air smelled strongly of grease and meat and cigarettes.
There are places when the idea of a great European market is based on nothing but fantasy or tourism-brochure outliers. Then, in a sudden switch, polyester underwear and packaged crackers (which make up the bulk of most market's offerings) give way to a blossoming of summer.