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Reason I Love Living in Romania #58 - The 'Piata'

This is a topic I've discussed enthusiastically in my social life but I've yet to write about it. Most likely because it sits deceptively under that part of life we classify as "mundane". For hundreds of years farmers have brought in their fresh produce to various markets in nearby cities and towns. Most cities in Romania have one, or more, Piata agro-alimentare. They were there before supermarkets ever existed. Years ago, they were out in the open, but nowadays they are mostly found in large warehouse-type buildings with zero amenities other than the stalls on which the produce is displayed.

Four things you will notice at the Piata:
1. The produce is not usually shiny, but that's because it's not been waxed.
2. It's not picture-perfect, but that's because mother-nature isn't a photographer.
3. Prices are low because you're not paying any third parties for shipping.
4. The seasons are relevant (ie. no cherries in Fall/Winter/Spring).

It's rare in our day and age for consumers to come face to face with producers. It's an aspect of 'doing the piata' that I thoroughly enjoy, though I can't help feeling complexed by these people's ability to create their own subsistence. While they should embody what it means to take pride in the fruit of one's labour,  the strain of a tough economy is visible on their faces. They have few options but to continue doing what they do. Their output is too small for supermarket contracts, so the only option is to load up the  ol' Dacia and sell at the piata. The cost of growing the produce, transportation, and the stall rental probably eats into anything that can be called a profit.

I met a tanti, one of the vendors, at the piata in Mihai Viteazu. She is one of those people who warms your heart by her way of being. She told me she's from Arad but that she has a place in Cluj where she stays over during the week. Last time I went by I asked what the peppers taste like being that they're so small, "Like real peppers" she replied, laughing. Then she gave me one to bite into. I'd never eaten a pepper on it's own before, like an apple, but there's a first time for everything. She was right about the taste. I then spent about $3 on a kilo of tomatoes, one of cucumbers and 1/2 kg of peppers.  Here's a picture of tanti Ana.

One of the most authoritative books on food in the 21st century, In Defense of Food, by journalist Michael Pollan, makes a simple thesis; We're no longer eating real food, but rather "edible foodlike substances”. Head to North America for proof. Farmer's markets are rare, and where they exist, the crops are usually the very same GMOd products that end up in the produce department of large supermarkets - where the situation is even more dire with regards to the quality of food. Edible foodlike substances is putting it mildly.

Pollan suggests the following set of five rules as a solution that culminates into the cardinal rule: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

I'm going to suggest a solution for each of these.

1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
Solution: Shop at the piata.

2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
Solution: Shop at the piata.

3. Avoid products that make healt claims (a guarantee they're processed and unnatural).
Solution: Shop at the piata.

4. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store.
Solution: Shop at the piata.

5. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
Solution: Go to the piata!

There you have it. Life in Romania can easily be much healthier. If only we all took advantage of the goodness of the piata  -and if people didn't smoke as much.

For an actual guide to shopping at the Piata, Sam wrote a post a couple of years ago that is just as relevant today. You can find it here: How to Survive a Romanian Piata.


  1. I hate to say it but: Boy, you got scammed. Or at least that's what I think. Look at the boxes behind the lady. To me it's clear that it's mass produced veggies, prolly originating from Turkey.

    There was a very nice expo of local products a few days ago in Cluj and you could clearly see the difference. The price was very low (everything was 2 lei/kg) and the products had irregular shapes, just like Mom Nature does it.

    However, I don't deny that our crap is better than theirs. We have better crap. I just think that the Mafia (aka "samsari") is dominating the Piata while the local producers are starving, thanks to our politicians. Even if you find better products in the Piata, they are still sub-par compared to what the locals can deliver.

    1. Oh yeah, I should've mentioned in the post, I'm aware that there are plenty of wholesalers in the piata just peddling whatever gets sold at the supermarket. I wouldn't say the biggest indication are the boxes given the kind of stuff people recycle here, it's easy enough to tell when you look at pretty looking produce. Unfortunately it's not all locals and all 'organic' but like you say, even the crap is...better crap.

  2. I've been to Romania three times, and I always love going to the piata! The fruits and vegetables usually taste much better than anything found in the supermarkets. Wish we had more farmers markets throughout America...

  3. And here some pictures from Piata Domenii market in Bucharest as of last winter:
    Probably not as rural as you describe it, but the products did not look very globalized.


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