Volzhskii Rynok / Волжский Рынок
Contrary to the expectations of most travelers, Irkutsk is not a cheap city. While cheaper than Moscow, most products in Irkutsk are no cheaper than they would be in the United States. For this reason, if you are here for a long time you’ll try to find the cheapest places to buy food and whatever else you may need. Irkutsk is famous for its vast central market, an expansive labyrinth of alleys and malls where one can find whatever goods, legal or illegal, which you might want to buy. However, the sheer enormity of the central market makes it an intimidating place to shop for everyday groceries, and its central location means that it is rarely the cheapest place to buy something. For a more convenient option, check out the smaller Volzhskii Rynok, located at the same bus stop as the IGLU dormitories. While not offering the plethora of products sold at the Central Market, the Volzhskii Rynok has quite a few stalls and small stores selling groceries and household products. Prices are usually lower than in a larger store, and particularly the food will often be of much higher quality.
The Volzhskii Rynok is quite simple to find and fairly easy to navigate – from the dorms, simply cross the street to where you’d get on a bus to go to the university and then go up Volzhskaya Ulitsa. The market will be on your right in 50 feet, but first you’ll pass a row of babushkas outside the market selling second-hand clothes and homemade food. The actual market is shaped a bit like a ring, with a main circular path and small shops and stands on either side of it. Most of the stores sell dairy, meat, produce, or fish, but there are also stands selling clothing and household goods. The market is definitely the best place to get stuff for the dorm like slippers, tea kettles, cookware, drying racks, etc. Be aware that for things other than food you should definitely bargain; the prices aren’t quite as flexible as in the Chinese section of the central market but you should be able to bring them down at least a little. Even some of the food sellers are open to bargaining, particularly the babushkas out front, some of whom sell delicious salo, tvorog, and smetana.
Apart from the babushkas, most of the vendors seem to be from Kyrgyzstan or other parts of Central Asia, if you express interest in the city of Osh you may get involved in long (and possibly interesting) discussions. If you talk to them long enough you may learn about some of the less public trading offered at the market, such as black market lumber and occasional “unofficial” vans and trucks to Bishkek. In addition to the products sold in the market the buildings around the market square also hold lots of small stores and business like photo and printing shops, barber shops, and so on, which are also fairly cheap and quite handy.
The Volzhskii Rynok is the closest market to the dorms and the cheapest place to buy most products. If you aren’t intimidated by the prospect of bargaining, it’s a great place to buy stuff as well as talk to locals.