One of the first things people from Belgrade remember is going to the farmer’s market on weekends with at least one family member. Seasons and weather conditions never delayed or in any way influenced this ritual. Because it is truly a ritual – preparing, walking between the booths, looking around and carefully choosing food and finally going for coffee or juice.
Assortment changed over the years and adapted to the needs of fast life in the city, so now you can buy coffee and light bulbs and wooden spatulas. But regardless of that, the choice of fresh food and fresh flowers still dominates this scene.
There are many farmer’s markets in Belgrade, almost every neighborhood has at least a few stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables. But there’s only one Kalenić. The largest and one of the most famous green markets in Belgrade, was built in 1926 on Kalenića guvno, one of the endowments of benefactor Vlajko Kalenić.
As Belgrade expanded more and more at the end of the 19th century, number of people increased, so the construction of uninhabited parts of Vračar began. Vineyards and gardens have disappeared, but one of the most beautiful parts of the city, which exudes the culture and tradition of old Belgrade on every corner, appeared. At the time, the only farmer’s market in that part of the city was on Cvetni trg, but with more people, the need for fresh fruits and vegetables increased. Farmer’s markets Zeleni venac, Jovanova and Kalenića guvno were built.
Kalenić started working on November 1st, 1926. In addition to booths with fresh food, there were, as there are today, booths with meat products, fish, dairy products, eggs… This became an “in” place to gather – you went shopping, and along the way you could play a game of chess and discuss world and domestic politics a little.
During the bombing of Belgrade in 1941, the Kalenić market was hit and significantly damaged. Still, it continued to operate but slowly lost its luster until the beginning of the 21st century when it was completely renovated, including the market gates dating back to the early 20th century.
Booths are located on a triangular plateau, and are surrounded by variety of small shops, bakeries and florists. This market is the heart of Belgrade, where people from all parts of the city flock on weekends to get supplies, but also to make conversation in passing. Students of the same class, or friends from school, often meet on Kalenić, regardless of age. There are few places where you can get to know the soul and spirit of a nation as you can on farmer’s markets.
Quoted many times on this blog and otherwise Momo Kapor, as a chronicler of one society, perhaps best conveyed the spirit of the market. It’s well known that Kalenić was his choice, and below you can read how Momo wrote about this specific agora of Belgrade asphalt.
“Those who don’t go to the market will never truly know Serbian people. Yes, those people like to hang on the scales, yes, they like to steal, yes, they like to bargain, but when they finish with that and succeed in that small game of his, when a man spreads the tote bag to receive onions or potatoes into it, exactly at the moment when the deception is over, when cunning and embezzlement is over, farmer will look at you, as if obliquely, a little under his eye, he will remember God for a moment, and with one wide movement, as if blessing, he will add one potato or onion to redeem himself before men and before heaven!
Come on, he’ll say, neither you nor I will fail because of this!
One more thing, our people have an innate megalomania… They never put you on the scales as much as you ask, always more. If you want a kilogram of apples, there is always a kilo and a half on the scales and farmer always asks you if it can be two kilos? You say you only want one, but she has already put on two and gives you an advice:
Take two, it’s better to have more, then to run out.”
There is something romantic in that Kalenić tote bag. There is always room in it for potatoes, oranges and a bunch of flowers that carelessly protrude from it. Next time you find yourself nearby on a weekend morning, stop by to see what Momo and we mean.