Each new place I travel to, high on my priority list, is a visit to the local food market. I love the smell of fresh local vegetables, fruits and flowers, the cacophony of market sellers as they go about their business, the palette of colors of various spices and condiments. My curiosity always gets the better of me and I end up spending hours, chatting up sellers about their local produce and tasting most of it. My taste buds have been tantalized by food markets from South America to Europe to Asia. Mentioned below are some of my favorite food markets, so far, and definitely demand a visit when on your sojourn to these cities.
Cours Saleya, Nice, France
Fascinated by the simplicity and freshness of Niçoise cuisine, I strolled in on this market which is the haunt for many avant-garde chefs, locals and tourists. Set on a promenade by the sea, this market showcases the best of Southern French cuisine. This morning market lies in the quaint Old Town part of beautiful Nice and is open from Tuesday to Sunday. People flock to Cours Saleya for its fresh and most sort after produce from the very abundant region of Provence. On sale is the very prized and sort after zucchini flowers, truffle, herbs, olives, lavender honey sold alongside the not so delicate animal parts like lambs’ testicles, pigs’ ears and heads. Cours Saleya is also a fabulous flower market which stays open the whole day. The market has a different atmosphere on summer nights, when it becomes a covered eating area and has many cafés and seafood restaurants to choose from and enjoy some delicious Niçoise cuisine.
MUST TRY / BUY:
- Visit the stall of Pierre Magnani, organic producer of more than 50 varieties of tomatoes, colors ranging from sunny yellow to deep reds.
- Try Socca (Chickpea flatbread Niçoise specialty) at Theresa stall.
- For your gourmet larder, stock up on local goat cheeses, Niçoise olives, lavender honey and truffle.
Mercat de la Boqueira, Barcelona, Spain
Set in the heart of Barcelona’s most active street, Las Ramblas, the city’s most central food market, Mercat de la Boqueria, is a must do on every food lover’s list. One of the most colorful and dramatic markets I have been to, it is also abundant in fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood, cured meats, sausages, cheeses and sweets. Well known for its quality produce, Barcelona’s top chefs queue up at the stalls early morning, to get their hands on some of the freshest seafood and prized ingredients such as jamón ibérico, wild mushrooms or the very delicious Asturian queso de cabra (goat’s cheese). The market has many stalls that open at lunch time serving Catalonian delicacies that have to be tried sitting on the stools – from fresh oysters, jamón ibérico to salt cod fritters (buñuelos) and razor clams (navajas).If you can stomach the unknown, try goose barnacles (percebes) or bulls’ testicles!
The market is alive with vendors tempting you with samples of fresh juices, nuts, eggs, chocolates to the colorful sights of spices, cheeses, meat cuts on display at well laid out stalls. One feels like “Alice in wonderland”, overwhelmed by the sights, the sounds and the smells from these exotic foods on offer.
MUST TRY / BUY:
- Try the sautéed baby squid and cava at El Quim de la Boqueria stall.
- Buy some jamón ibérico, the best ham you would ever taste!
- As souvenirs, buy some colorful and quirky candies from the market.
Pisac Sunday Market, Peru
It doesn’t get more local than this. This market is run by the indigenous Quechua people with fish, meat, local spices, fruits and vegetables from the remote villages in the surrounding highlands. Every Sunday, they gather in this pretty Andean town of Pisac, dressed in their native dress, proudly showcasing their produce. This market also displays a large selection of bright colored clothing, alpaca sweaters, handmade jewellery, musical instruments, local ceramics, souvenirs and much more.
Besides witnessing haggling among vendors and buyers, you see a lot of bartering among the local people, especially for fruits and vegetables. It is interesting to watch different communities from various parts of Peru, in their traditional costumes barter for goods; such as corn from Lake Titicaca to potatoes from Central Valley. Interesting fact – Peru has close to 5000 varieties of potatoes and you would see a whole lot of them at this market. Locals sell traditionally prepared food representing their region for a reasonable amount. For lunch, head to the community oven in the plaza, they serve delicious empanadas, freshly cooked meat and fish.
Pisac is a market that will dazzle all your senses and give you a local experience that is truly enriching. A word of advice – Come early, this place can get really busy.
MUST TRY / BUY:
- Try the chicha morada (non alcoholic drink made from purple corn) at one of the juice stalls.
- For the adventurous foodie, try the roasted guinea pig with potatoes, it’s surprisingly very tasty.
- Try the lucuma fruit, native to the Andean region, deep egg yolk color and considered a super fruit.
Nishiki Market, Kyoto, Japan
Situated between Teramachi and Shinmachi, this 400 year old market is well known as “the Kitchen of Kyoto” and is the largest traditional food market. This traditional shotengai (shopping street) sells all the major ingredients for traditional Kyoto cuisine such as fresh tofu, Japanese pickles, seasonal Kyoto vegetables, Wagashi (Japanese sweets), tea and fresh seafood. The hustle and bustle in the market accompanied by the smell of roasted Tanba chestnuts, fresh fish and pickled vegetables leaves one in disarray.
Some shops sell takeaway food like skewers of yakitori or sashimi, and a few sit down restaurants can be found amid these stalls. Some stalls sell whale meat too! If you are a lover of chips, this market has an assorted variety of chips (no potato) from different root vegetables – lotus root, beets, carrots etc and pickled vegetables from pumpkin, radish to eggplant. For the adventurous, try the skewer of quail egg in octopus. Many shops offer free tastings and though they may look foreign to your eye and nose, I would say try them all, it might just surprise you!
MUST TRY / BUY:
- Try the delicious tofu based lunch menu at Hale.
- Try the melt in the mouth Japanese egg omelette – dashimaki tamago at Miki Keiran.
- Buy the famous hand crafted knives at Aritsugu shop, one of the oldest in Japan.
Balik Pazari, Istanbul, Turkey
Balik Pazari or the Fish Market is Istanbul’s most sort after market for fresh seafood. From the silvery Black Sea mackerel to the calamari from Antalya to the octopus from Bodrum, this market is a sheer delight to any seafood lover. Situated in an iconic old neighbourhood and off the famous Istiklal Street, this market is a jolly good place with fish mongers singing their way to attract customers and spirited customers bargaining to get a steal deal. In the evening, the atmosphere is vibrant; with nearby fish restaurants serving the fresh catch of the day in the form of meze platters (appetizers), that are washed down with the local alcohol – Raki. The market also houses a wide variety of fruit and vegetables from around the region. Just a stroll down from the market, is Nevizade Street, a narrow street filled with restaurants serving the freshest of seafood, street lined bars and live music to keep you in the mood.
MUST TRY / BUY:
- Try the Midve Tava (beer-batter fried mussels) with garlic sauce from the street.
- Eat the seafood meze platter (especially the grilled octopus) at Ney’le Mey’le Meyhane, Nevizade Street.
- For the gourmands, stop by at Resat Balik Pazari to buy caviar and the city’s best Lakerda (strongly flavoured salted bonito).