I must confess: I have zero knowledge in the German language, but my eyes caught sight of the newspaper’s colourful pictures and the words - “Naschmarkt” and “100”, ever since I got on the train. Once home, I sought help from Google Translate and I happily discovered that Naschmarkt is the most popular market in Vienna – The Belly of Vienna – and, it was celebrating its 100th Birthday!
Naschmarkt has already become my weekly stopover destination since we moved to Vienna last year. The city has other open-air street markets but I enjoy this market the most and, every week, I look forward to going there. This is not so much because of its reputation as a historical landmark or as the place for the best regional produce – deli food, poultry, fish, spices and more – or for its famous Saturday flea market. I go there for my groceries sure, but also to talk to vendors, and to watch people.
I have built special relations with some vendors. I regularly buy my flowers from Melane – she picks out the freshest flowers for me from her flower truck. If she is not busy, she tells me her stories as she wraps my flowers. About three years ago, her kind-hearted boss, who happened to be her friend from school, had asked her to help her dad with his 40-year-old family flower business. Since then, for nine months, every week from Tuesday to Friday, Melane brings the truck loaded with fresh cut flowers from their garden in Vienna’s 22nd district. They are available for sale only in Naschmarkt! When I ask her what she does the other three months, Melane smiles and says “I travel”!
Then there is Esra. Ever since my Icelandic friend Runa introduced me to Esra, the fish-monger, I have stopped buying fish from elsewhere. Esra tells me about her fishes and her suppliers, who are from all over the globe. One day, as she chatted about her day’s shrimp supply, she mentioned that they came from Bangladesh! Ever since thiat, I became even more attached to her shop!
According to recorded history, Naschmarkt has been on the banks of Vienna’s Wein river since at least 1780, as a dairy farmer’s market. Later, after the city built the SchleIifmuhlbrucke bridge over the river and constructed a long boulevard, today’s Naschmarket started taking shape. There are many interesting tales about the origin of its name. Some say that the milk buckets were made of wood from the Asch (German for Ash) tree, and the market began to be known as the Aschenmarkt before finally adopting its current name. Some say it might have been the whiff of sweets (“naschen” in German) in the market and the name stemmed from that!
By 1910 they had already built 100 open air stalls along the street for the vendors. And today there are about 170 vintage stalls in green cast iron structure, stretching about 1.5 kilometres, and still carrying the original characteristics of the market. The market consists of three rows of stalls. One row is exclusively for restaurants and bars. The other two rows are for the vendors to display and sell their local daily supply of fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, fresh baked goodies, various types of cheeses, wines, flowers, and all sorts of spices, condiments, dried nuts, etc. Here, a few vendors still sell their food from vintage wooden barrels; some have their goods displayed in an assortments of Italian, Japanese, Moroccan or Greek delis.
Naschmarkt is the perfect example of Vienna’s melting pot culture. Here, the immigrants have weaved into the city culture and found a place to not only offer ethnic foods but also show the true sense of integration among the various ethnic groups, confirming the saying - “variety is the spice of life”! Food traders are quite generous and I almost never decline their free sample. Some of the market vendors and stallholders have been here for generations and some are new arrivals. Austrian farmers and Turkish butchers sell their merchandise next to Balkan food stalls. A New Yorker sommelier works in a Mediterranean bar/restaurant next to a Viennese café. The restaurants, serving their varied culinary offerings, ranging from traditional Austrian food to Oriental dining, the isles are crammed with sumptuous aromas – bustling with activity throughout the year!
On Saturdays, the market swells with the addition of the weekly flea market. Antique and bargain hunters from Vienna and all over Europe gather here for Austrian vintage plates, cutlery and antique weapons. Even people who don’t have to buy anything would still go to Naschmarkt - the best antique market in Europe!
On my regular market days, I have a set pattern to follow. I stroll around the market first, sometime taking photos, while I shop and chat with the vendors. Then I take a coffee break, where I sit and relax, taking in the sights and sounds of the market.
Today, I follow no such pattern as I stroll around, taking in the festivities of the first day of Naschmarkt’s 100-year celebration. The market is teeming with people – strolling, relaxing, drinking – while there are others simply going about their daily grocery shopping, paying no heed to the DJs’ blaring music. Yellow balloons and colourful posters and banners have turned the market into a full-on party!
I wander on until I come to a stall called “Sweet Dream” which was offering free samples of Turkish sweets. As I halted, the neighbour food stall-owner spotted me and gleefully greeted me in Hindi! I smile at him and said I was from Bangladesh. In response, he animated exclaims “Fokira Pool, Motijhill!” and my jaw drops! What a strange thing to hear at a street market in Vienna!!
I was glad Sarabjeet Singh didn’t have any customers waiting in line to be served, and so we kept talking. He told me all about his visit to Dhaka in 2009, fondly remembering the Fokirapool and Motijhill areas in Dhaka city. It was such a rewarding experience for him, paying homage to Guru Nanak’s “Gurdwara Nanak Shahi” (Sikh temple). The temple was built in 1830, inside what is now the Dhaka University campus, to commemorate Guru Nanak’s visit to Dhaka around 1506 – 1507.
I was enraptured in his fond memories of my home city and I stood there in the narrow passage in front of Sarabjeet’s stall, until I realised it was getting quite crowded. So I let him attend to his customers and bid him goodbye.
Bio: Atiya Rumni Mahmood is a long-term resident of Maryland, who studied at University of Dhaka and University of Maryland at College Park, and worked in greater DC Metro area in corporate finance and accounting. She enjoys cooking, reading and travelling. She is currently living in Vienna, Austria