Must-See Local Markets: Feasts for the Eyes & Tastes of Real Life

Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh on 9/10/2014
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Canada, Europe, Food, Food and Wine, Italy, London, Travel, Local Markets


I love to cook, to try new foods and to learn new ways to prepare them – so one of my favorite ways to experience someplace new is to go scouting in local outdoor markets. I also enjoy people watching, and local markets are a wonderful way to get a taste of unrehearsed life in a new destination.

How vendors communicate with shoppers, whether bargaining is customary – or not, and how goods are displayed all reveal clues important to local values and traditions. It’s also a fun way to learn what’s “hot,” and what’s not, through local eyes. 

Market browsing can be a good way to stretch your legs and take in some fresh air while on the road. Keep in mind that not every great market is found out-of-doors; some are located inside or beneath a roof that provides welcomed protection from the cold or heat.

Some local markets are beautiful to behold, both in wares and surroundings; others are chaotic, even a bit disheveled. But for me, each offers an engaging way to connect with the local people and culture. Here are a few of the world’s must-see markets, found in cities that you can discover with Tauck.

The Borough Market, London
Calling itself a “haven for chefs, restaurateurs and cooks,” this is London’s oldest market with some 250 years of operating history but far fewer as a retailer open to the public. Today, however, on Tuesdays through Saturdays you’ll find fine foods from a wealth of independent, knowledgeable suppliers ranging from olive oils to cheeses, pastries, sausages, chocolates and delicacies from all over the British Isles (and much further afar). There are gourmet baked goods, charcuterie, dairy products, beverages, fish and seafood, spices and meats, along with plenty of sampling opportunities and upscale cafés and restaurants. Enjoy the market with your family on Grand European Family Holiday. Or you can make plans to visit when traveling on any of several other Tauck journeys that visit London, including A Week In... London and Paris and World Cities… London; as well as two of our European river cruises.

santiagoMercado Central, Santiago
Colorful and chaotic, this market is where santiaguinos do their daily shopping. It’s also a showcase for the fabulous fruits, vegetables and seafood that are among Chile’s major exports. Beneath a cast iron roof made by a Scottish firm in 1868 and an intricately vaulted ceiling, you’ll find a “sea” of apron-clad fishmongers. They’re either skillfully filleting fish while customers wait or competitively touting their wares to passersby. The shrimp, scallops, oysters, mussels, clams, sea bass, eel and much more are plentiful, cheap and fresh. A large restaurant area in the center of the market is known for classic seafood lunches with dishes like caldillo de congrio, a traditional fish soup served with crusty bread and Chilean wine. Make plans to visit on Essence of South America.

St. Lawrence Market, Toronto
Named “World’s Best” by National Geographic in 2012, this downtown “hub of culinary life” has been around for over 200 years. The indoor South Market contains all kinds of fruits, vegetables, flowers, meats, cheeses, fish and imported goods. The North Market has hosted a Saturday seasonal farmer’s market, selling Ontario-grown and -made products since 1803. Located in the center of downtown, it’s a popular lunchtime destination. Locals swarm here for mouthwatering traditions like: peameal (Canadian) bacon sandwiches at the Carousel Bakery and fresh-off-the boat golden fish & chips at Buster’s Sea Cove. There are also non-food specialty items like Native American crafts and sculpture, Anne of Green Gables memorabilia and much more. Our Canada’s Capital Cities plus Niagara Falls begins in Toronto.

Chatuchak Market, Bangkokbangkok_2
A visit to the thousands of stalls at the “JJ” market, as it is often called, is a dizzying weekend affair; it’s as much a popular local hangout as a tourist attraction. Comfortable clothing and shoes are a must, and bargaining is the norm, although haggling over a few cents is not recommended. Along with Burmese lacquerware, Thai handicrafts and silver jewelry, there are hundreds of food stalls with lots to eat and drink. The tastes range from iced, salted strawberries to paella (Who knew?); Malaysian the tarik (pulled tea) – made by pouring black tea, sugar and condensed milk through the air again and again until it turns silky and frothy; handmade coconut ice cream; kanom jien naam-prik (Thai noodles in a rich peanut sauce); and freshly squeezed orange, tangerine and vegetable juices. And at the laid-back Viva, there’s a live DJ, comfortable lounge seating, and ”extra smooth” martinis! Consider exploring the market while traveling on Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand.

La Vucciria, Palermo
In the historic district of this Sicilian seaside city, the market opens early (about 6:00 AM) every day but Sunday. A 700-year-old-tradition, La Vucciria centers on Piazza Caracciola (Fisherman’s Square), where the morning catch is laid out over sheets of crushed ice. Along the maze of surrounding side streets, you’ll find pasta, grains, local produce, herbs, grappa, wine, salted capers (a local specialty), pomegranates, long-stemmed artichokes, tomatoes of every kind… and the art of abbonniata. This is the practice of vendors calling out their wares at the top of their lungs, a custom attributed to the island’s North African roots. La Vucciria means “hubbub” or “confusion,” perhaps reflecting the raucous nature of market mornings. Discover Palermo on Sicily: Culture through the Ages.

Tsukiji Market, Tokyo
Immense volume and 400+ kinds of exotic seafood attract a steady stream of visitors to Tokyo’s largest fish market. The daily action (except Sundays) gets started around 3:00 AM with preparations for its famous tuna auctions. Not much later, visitors wait in line for a limited chance to observe the auction antics, beginning two hours later. From mackerel to shellfish and squid, the market reveals the unique craftsmanship of its workers and the routines of a culture with a deeply rooted love for fish. Politeness and following the rules is expected; bargaining is not. While the inner (wholesale) market restricts access to auction visitors, the outer market offers a warren of small shops selling seafood, sushi and related specialties. Be advised that Tsukiji, primely located in central Tokyo since 1924, will be moving to a man-made island on Tokyo Bay sometime in 2015. Be sure to check the details with the hotel concierge when visiting Tokyo on Tauck’s Essence of Japan or Cruising the Land of the Rising Sun.


La Boqueria, Barcelona
Just off La Rambla, the city’s walkable, crowd-pleasing central boulevard, sits Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. With roots that go back to the 13th century, this largest and most popular of Barcelona’s public markets contains more than 200 stalls beneath a Modernist metal roof. Inside is a profusion of fresh foods, pastries, artisan wares, wine, restaurants and tapas bars. From 8:00 AM to 8:30 PM every day but Sunday, you’ll find foods from all over Spain and a wealth of Catalan specialties like octopus, inkfish, anchovies, rabbit, game birds, acorn-fed cured hams, olives, almonds and mounds of mushrooms. It’s a destination that’s as attractive as it is taste tempting, complete with a culinary classroom where you can learn from chefs, sommeliers and artists. Consider visiting on a pre-stay on The Art of Living: Barcelona to Paris.

Marché Place Richelme, Aix-en-Provence
Typically Provençal and often called one of the most beautiful in the area, this daily market is a visual feast. It’s the largest of five outdoor markets in Aix. Set along a stunning square lined with plane trees, the market on Place Richelme showcases goods as gorgeous as the manner in which they are displayed. Brought in by local farmers and producers on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings are fruits and vegetables, delicate goat cheeses, myriad types of olives and sausages, honeys flavored with thyme, rosemary and lavender and regional specialties like calissons (almond paste sweets) and navettes (biscuits flavored with orange or lemon). Not far away, you’ll find smaller markets selling flowers in a cacophony of color at Place de l’Hotel de Ville; Provençal textiles and high quality handbags and accessories on the Cours Mirabeau, and fresh fish at Place des Prêcheurs. This is market browsing that you can feel perfectly comfortable dressing up for; you won’t be alone! Make this one of your indulgent pleasures while traveling on A Week In… Paris and Provence.


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