The Orto Sai Bazaar is my new Bishkek favorite.
I know that the Osh bazaar is bigger, more colorful and chaotic. And it’s true that it’s basically the emporium of Bishkek (not counting Dordoi, which is over an hour away) – if something is available in Bishkek, you can probably buy it at Osh. I even had pillows made there once – bought the fabric, had it cut and sewn, bought the stuffing, had them stuffed. And where else can you buy both a blow torch and a kitten (both under $10)?
But for the everyday, Orto Sai has swayed me.
I visited once in summer (the raspberries! The apricots!), but we didn’t return until this Saturday, when we went bazaar shopping with another foreign couple residing in our complex. Orto Sai is about a third the size of Osh, but it’s accessible, it’s clean, and it’s far more organized (i.e. really easy to find things, as like things are actually grouped together in covered rows on a grid system). And the produce… I was starting to despair, because by this time of year basically the only fresh produce you can find in most places are organizes and carrots. Even the apples look sad. But Orto Sai has beautiful produce, including a lot of things (like baby bok choi) I haven’t seen for months. For winter, the prices were also reasonable (unlike the grocery stores, where squished bruised fruit goes for $3-9 a kilo in the months before spring, or our local bazaar where prices for seasonal vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes have gone up twenty-fold). Osh bazaar generally has good inexpensive produce, but even their stalls are a little barren after November. The difference seems to be that most produce sellers at the Osh bazaar are from Southern Kyrgyzstan (hence ‘Osh’ bazaar), and rely on supply lines to the Fergana Valley. The Fergana valley is fertile and warmer than northern Kyrgyzstan, but still limited in what people produce. A lot of the stall sellers at the Orto Sai bazaar, on the other hand, seemed to be Korean. Many of them had produce from China, most likely from Xinjiang, where food is grown in greenhouses year round. So even in winter they had a steady stock of fresh food.
Other perks of Orto Sai:
There’s a normal tool, household, and clothing section *and it’s clean*.
It’s close to Beta 2, where you can round off your weekend shopping with imports from Turkey like olive oil, coffee, spices, and white cheese.
There are a few cafes just south of Beta 2 for an after-bazaar coffee break (the Giraffe Coffee stand outside Beta 2 also sells super-caffeinated cappuccinos for under $2).
And the second hand street bazaar with fascinating soviet era relics among the junk runs between the Eastern entrance to Orto Sai and Beta 2. So if you fancy antique cameras, 60’s summer postcards, Lenin pins, old socks (also seen underwear…), gas masks, used dentil equipment, or an accordion it’s a great place for a weekend stroll.
So, there you go: Osh Bazaar great for taking pictures, finding inexpensive second-hand electronics, buying cheap shurdaks or that thing you can’t find anywhere else, but Orto Sai is definitely better (and quicker) for regular weekly shopping. Plus there’s fresh-pressed carrot juice at Turkey prices))