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By Madeleine Wilson
The pulse of any city is felt most strongly in and around its food markets; the workaday routine of housewives filling their net shoppers or chefs bartering for the best and freshest bulk produce. Few attractions offer such a multi-sensory morning spent inhaling purply grapes, thelingering perfume of vine-ripened tomatoes or collecting fuzzy-to-the-touch peaches.
Hungry? Here are eight food markets to get excited about…
1. Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
The busiest wholesale fish market in the world, Tsukiji is known as ‘the kitchen for 12 million people in Tokyo’. If you feel you are getting in the way as you wade past piles of polystyrene, crates and trollies, look out for signs to the visitors passway where you can watch the live auctions with every clanging of the bell. Shipments arrive at 5pm and staff work through the night in time for a 3am inspection of fresh-off-the-boat catch. It is all over by 6:30am so your visit requires an early start. The only area off limits to tourists is the tuna wholesale section. The sheer volume of fish sold here makes it rather a sobering affair; the current fishing crises, especially for tuna, suddenly strikes a chord.
2. Pike Place Market, Seattle
This golden oldie of a waterside market began over 100 years. Once only the pitch of eight farmers, today it is one of the top farmers’ markets in the US attracting nearly 10 million visitors every year. Starbucks began its world invasion in Seattle – the first of the coffee shops opened here in 1971. Learn about the Fat Lady Barber and other quirky stories on a heritage tour of the market.
For a fish soup that has won so many world championships it has been disqualified, Pike Place Chowder serves up hearty bowls of the stuff. This is also home to the famous ‘flying fish’ service – vendors stand in front of their daily catch to answer all your questions and once you pick a fish, it is artfully thrown through the air, caught and wrapped for sale. Keep a look out for the Gum Wall on Market Theatre in Post Alley. This sticky tradition began when theatregoers waiting in line began leaving their old gum on the brick wall.
3. La Boqueria, Barcelona
Spain has the widest range of farm produce in the EU and this Catalan market is a multi-sensory feast. If Las Ramblas was something of a disappointment – it is a rather tourist trodden path and lacking in charm – La Boqueria restores vitality to this central strip.
For local specialities, ask for tomates de raf, a hard fat green variety bought up by the bucket load by restaurant owners when they can get hold of them. Adventurous types should head to Despojos Rosa – meaning, scraps or leftovers. Among the brains, stomach linings and testicles, the coagulated blood is apparently ‘mwah’ when fried with lots of onions. Decide for yourself if Spanish ham beats Italian salami and buy up a longaniza – similar to chorizo – or ask for a small amount of Jabugo which is Spain’s finest ham from Huelva.
4. Floating Markets, Bangkok
Do not miss the wonderful Bangkok floating markets – known locally as talaat naam – found dotted about the city’s waterways. For the most authentic, head to Tha Kha. Here there are plenty of boat vendors, and the only other tourists will be Thai. It is a bit of a trip located about an hour and a half from Bangkok but you can catch a songthaew from the market in Samut Songkhram City about 7km away.
There are plenty of photo opportunities, with long wooden boats laden with everything from fruits, vegetables, flowers and freshly cooked noodles. At Tha Kha floating market expect to pay around 20 baht for a local tour. The main market operates with the waxing and waning of the moon – if you know your lunar calendar, you will know that the main days are the 2nd, 7th and 12th days of the month. However, to deal with its increasing popularity, a slightly smaller version is open on weekends. It runs from 7am-11:30am and the earlier you go the better. The central Chatuchak Weekend Market has creepy crawlies for adventurous palates.
Where: Tha Kha Amphawa, Samut Songkhram MAP, Chatuchak Weekend Market, Thanon Kamphaeng Phet 3 MAP
Open: Tha Kha; weekends or 2nd, 7th and 12th, 7:30am – 11:30am; Chatuchak Weekend Market Sat-Sun 9am-6pm
Nearest Bangkok hostel with self-catering kitchen… HI-Sukhumvit
5. Mercato della Pescheria, Catania
A must-see in Sicily, the stalls glisten with silvery scales and bulging marble eyes. The crowning jewels of the market place are the swordfish, with their magnificent rapiers displayed with defeated pride on most stalls. The tide once allowed boats to sail right up alongside marketplace – seafood does not get much fresher than this. Ask for a swordfish steak, gangly octopus or a net of vongole (little clams); with flavours this good, little preparation is required as long as you have somewhere to cook your plunder.
6. Jemaa el Fna, Marrakesh
It is a market of days gone by, with much of its medieval charm still prevalent in the sellingof spices, meat and dried fruit. This is the souk of all souks and boasts UNESCO World Heritage Site status. As darkness creeps across the square the twinkling lights strung uparound the stalls glow brilliantly. After dinner, retreat to a balcony at one of the surrounding cafes where you can sip mint tea, watch figures huddle around fires and catch the whispers of storytellers on the wind.
7. Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, San Francisco
A glorious fanfare of colour and top produce is housed in this architectural landmark at the end of Market Street. There are seasonal variations and you can go to buy or gorge on blushing peaches and plump blueberries in summer as well as year-round staples from stalls such as the Cowgirl Creamery which specialises in artisan cheeses. Market days are Tuesdays and Thursdays(10am-2pm) but the main event, which spills on to the Embarcadero as well as the rear of the plaza overlooking the bay, is on Saturdays (8am-2pm).
8. Dong Hua Men Night Market, Beijing
For thrill seekers, the Dong Hua Men night market promises squeamish snacks. Scorpions, seahorses or grilled silk worms are restricted to just a few stalls, usually approached by camera toting tourists. In fact, very few locals attempt these either. There is plenty to enjoy here with specialities including stuffed pancakes, garlic fried rice and steamed buns all adding up to a bargain dinner for under 12 YEN. Most stalls display names in both Mandarin and English so there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises. Produce is displayed raw so that you can watch vendors cook dishes from scratch in sizzling woks.
Best of the rest…
Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne, Australia
Essex Street Market, NYC, USA
Mercado Municipal, Sao Paulo, Brazil
St. Lawrence Market, Toronto, Canada
Rialto Fish Market, Venice, Italy
Borough Market, London, UK
Thanks to mzarzar, frankartculinary, RightIndex, mercutious, sprklg, mastermaq, emilio labrador and Mister Jo for the images off Flickr. Please note, at the times of publication all images were suitable for use according to the Creative Commons License.
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