Kumice z placa – Souls of the Famous Zagreb Market
I recently wrote an article called The Croatian Kitchen: 5 Classic Foods to Try in Zagreb for Like a Local. This is a little excerpt:
“When I was a kid, there were still female farmers who came to our neighbourhood selling just these two simple ingredients (cottage cheese and sour cream), which they carried in giant baskets on top of their heads. I was afraid to even open the door when they rang, not wanting to come anywhere near them because I feared the entire content of their baskets might fall off their heads. They moved so smoothly, though. They were somehow capable of taking some fresh cheese from the basket, wrapping it up, taking the money and, hardest of all, walking up and down the stairs carrying that enormous weight! I still can’t even think of it without imagining them tripping over something. These women can’t be seen walking around the city any more, but you can purchase the same fresh cheese and sour cream at the local farmers market.”
I feel like sharing a few more thoughts and facts about those women. We popularly call them kumica. It generally refers to female vendors at the farmers market. The word kumica is a diminutive of godmother. Yet, it doesn’t always sound nice in Croatian. It does, when you use it for a real kumica, woman who sells her own homegrown produce. Nowadays, people romanticize their pure existence, build statues to honor every single kumica that ever set foot on the farmers market.
At the same time, when you call someone kumica z placa (farmers woman from the market), it’s almost an insult. You’re saying she’s too loud and rude. No one really wants to be called a kumica.
There are many historical records about women who came to the city from nearby villages to sell food. The first record describing a female vendor with a basket on top of her head goes back to 1400’s! Kumice are still here, without a basket though. You will have no problem recognizing a real kumica when you visit the farmers market. Traditional kumice are older women with head-scarfs, selling fresh products.
Head-scarfs were sometimes a handy thing that kept your hair well combed and clean, and protected women from sun or wind. But it wasn’t just that. By the colours and the way the scarfs were tied, you could tell whether a woman was single or married, and you knew her social background immediately. Countryside women didn’t want to be seen without one. I have never seen my great-grandma without one, not even in her own home. Never.
I already mentioned that sculptures of kumice are being built. I meant that – the city authorities actually built a sculpture to make sure that at least the bronze kumica would never leave Dolac, the main farmers market in Zagreb. There was even a little voting about how should we call her. People went for Barica. If you notice the statue on top of the stairway to Dolac the market, now you even know her name – it’s Kumica Barica (kooh-meeh-tzah bah-ree-tzah). She’s a remembrance for all the women who have been feeding this town for centuries.