One of the first buildings in Yerevan that caught my eye was the old market, . It’s unmissable – it boasts an arched facade decorated with gilded Soviet motifs. If you’ve taken the Free Walking Tour of Yerevan or visited the nearby Blue Mosque, you’ve probably seen it too.
As it turns out, this beautiful building is shrouded in controversy. Back when Mashtots Avenue was Lenin Prospekt, Pak Shuka was Yerevan’s only undercover market. When Armenia gained its independence, Pak Shuka persevered as a favourite shopping place among locals and one of the city centre’s most popular tourist attractions. A few years ago, the building was sold to a infamous Armenian oligarch who promptly evicted all the tenants and gutted the market, destroying the building’s internal arches and ornamentation. He promised distraught Yerevanians that Pak Shuka would reopen; but in the end, he turned it into a Yerevan City supermarket.
We were advised to boycott Yerevan City because of the Pak Shuka ordeal. But it’s the closest grocery shop to our Airbnb, so we have been shopping there quite frequently. It does have some cool stuff, but it’s obviously not a patch on what it must have been. I can only imagine what Pak Shuka was like back in the days when it was the place to shop for produce in Yerevan.
Nowadays you’ll have to travel a bit further (1km from Republic Square) to get a taste of Armenian market life. The has so far survived gentrification. It doesn’t feature on many Yerevan itineraries – possibly because of its location – but in my humble opinion, it’s well worth a visit.
The front section of the GUM Market is completely devoted to – a candy-dipped nut treat that’s similar to Georgian churchkhela. The vendors here are quite passionate about their product and will try their best to get your attention with a never-ending stream of free samples. Just be aware that everything is priced by weight and some of those candied fruits are deceptively heavy.
It’s worth visiting the GUM Market just to see the gigantic sheets of . Apparently it’s possible to observe the whole lavash-making process at GUM; we missed out on that, but we did see how the lavash ladies ‘refresh’ the bread by spraying it with water. A little moisture keeps the ultra-thin bread from cracking. I’d love to learn more about the different types of lavash and how the different textures are achieved.
The back section of the GUM Market is hidden and we almost left without seeing it. To get there, take one of two narrow corridors that lead off either side of the central stairway. This area is devoted to – I’ve never seen vegetables and herbs bundled together so neatly!
And something I’m still getting used to seeing at fresh markets – ! The colours and textures are just incredible. The white haystack pictured below is a tower of pickled cabbage. We never saw that in Southeast Asia.
If you want to sample fresh Armenian produce or get your hands on some of those delicious candied apricots, take my advice and add the GUM Market to your Yerevan itinerary. It’s also worth noting that GUM has , making it one of the best markets in the region to photograph. We visited early on a Sunday morning and the market was bustling without being overwhelming.