Dubrovnik's three main markets are based in the Old Town, Lapad and Gruž respectively. All offer fresh local produce - tomatoes, figs, apples - but each has its own specialities and atmosphere. Tourists browse the stalls of central Gundulićeva poljana, chefs and restaurateurs Gruž, while modest Lapad trades in bric a brac on Sundays.
The oldest market in Dubrovnik is located in the prominent, baroque square of Gundulićeva poljana, by the Rector's Palace and Cathedral. Centrepiecing the stalls is a statue of 17th-century poet Ivan Gundulić. A market has been set up here since 1892, after the abolition of the Ragusa republic, which did not approve of such things. Traditionally it has been focused on fruit and vegetables. The vendors come mainly from the eastern villages of Župa and Konavle outside Dubrovnik, some from the more distant Primorje area. Until the 1980s, the market was spread across the whole square but its size reduced with the decrease in residents and increase in rents. It is difficult to tell whether rapid gentrification here will make this a fashionable place to buy food. It certainly is most expensive of the markets in town. A short stroll away by the old harbour, a modest fish market also does good trade.
Saturday is the spenza, the weekly shop. Try and get here early. In summer, as well as fruit and vegetables, traders offer seasonal cheese, olives, honey and Mediterranean spices. Some sell home-made loza and travarica, strong, flavoured brandy, the type you can't buy elsewhere. In one corner, by the Rector's Palace, stalls sell lavender and cantarion oils, ideal for aroma therapy, and sachets of dried flowers.
Every day at noon a ritual takes place as stallholders approach the last working hour. Watched by equally punctual, attentive cats, an official brings a bucket of corn to feed the pigeons sat patiently on the nearby roofs. Suddenly, scores of birds fill the sky. This is the signal for locals to slope off slowly and congregate over coffee at one of the many terrace cafés.
In the same location as it was allocated in recent decades, a section of the ruined garden of the Gundulić summer villa, Gruž market is larger and cheaper than the one in the Old Town. Shoppers and occasional restaurateurs arrive here, near the ferry terminal, from early in the morning, hoping to find the best goods. Few words are exchanged with the vendors, who have come down from the Neretva delta, Konavle or Herzegovina over the border. With a little luck, locals find the best cabbage for zelena menestra (cabbage, smoked pork and potato), goats' cheese for salads, the best eggs for rožata (the local version of crème caramel) and, for traditional Ragusan orange cake, oranges from Lopud. Prices are mostly fixed and haggling doesn't tend to happen. A little discount might be easiest at the end of the working day, when vendors are looking to offload all their stock. If you are fond of fine fish, get here by 7am, when women arrive from the Elafiti islands. The stock varies from day to day, but Fridays is usually the best. Although everyone here moans about the cost of living these days, the most expensive fish, starting from 100kn a kilo, quickly vanishes.
This is the most modest and downbeat of Dubrovnik's daily markets, but Lapad does deal in bric a brac for one day a week at least. It's set in a sunken square where the pathway to the beach meets the main road to the Old Town, kralja Tomislava. Nearby are plenty of restaurants should you wish to have lunch after a browse. Most mornings here you will find locals picking up the usual bags of apples and tomatoes but on Sundays a handful of stalls are given over to books, postcards, stamps and medals, the kind of souvenir somewhat more characterful than you might otherwise see available on Stradun.