Want to travel like a local and connect with the community you’re visiting? Detour to a neighborhood farmers market. These days, markets are more than a gathering of fresh, seasonal veggie and fruit vendors. In some parts of the country and world, the daily, weekly and monthly market is a large-scale community festival, celebrating local culture alongside lively music and good conversation. Domestically, there are popular concrete jungle markets like New York’s Union Square Greenmarket
, Los Angeles’ Hollywood Farmers Market
and San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
. Abroad are the big ancient dazzlers like Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
and Medina of Marrakech’s maze of bustling souks packed with exotic spices, oils, dried goods and other sundries.
Whether halfway around the world, or, just outside of town, epicurean and
visually tantalizing destination marketplaces are worthy of an exploratory stop-by. We compiled a list of just a few of our favorite markets both near and far that we’ve foraged for sustainable purchases, local entertainment, and excellent people watching.
What are your favorite markets and how far have you traveled to enjoy them?
It’s the arts and cultural scene that make this market a twice-weekly event for Southwesterners in-the-know. Delivering local produce Tuesday and Saturday mornings to the LEED-certified Santa Fe Railyard, the market first began as a few farmers selling produce for their truck beds. Today, there are over 150 vendors, many offering niche artisanal items like jams, baked goods, and soaps. The market also features live music performances and hosts attractions for children.
Kashgar Sunday Market (Kashgar, China)
Said to be the best market in the world, not so much has changed visually at the remote two thousand-year-old massive weekly market at the Silk Road trading center in Western China. Uighur villagers still arrive by donkey and oxcart sporting their traditional, flamboyant headgear and hauling silk, heaps and mounds of grapes, figs, almonds and spices, among other unidentifiable edibles. While it’s not an easy trek to reach, and perhaps outside of the Uighur flatbreads and lamb kebabs not a site for big spending, it is a truly interesting market for observing others buying, selling, and haggling in a completely foreign language.
The daily upper Midwest market is located just outside of the city’s downtown and carries some more unusual and unique items that reflect the capital city’s now multi-national population. The hybrid farmer’s/flea market dating back to 1876 when it first opened is a locavore’s treasure with what is now 230 vendors and 170 stalls. Especially popular with city folk are Thursdays when the market comes to a downtown satellite location, and the weekend market offers cooking classes and concerts. Thirty minutes south of Duluth, Minnesota in Wrenshall is the Food Farm
, a globally recognized CSA recently celebrated internationally for their outstanding farming practices.
The Cours Saleya Market (Nice, France)
This is the French Riviera market and square of cafes littered along a seaside promenade with a long pedestrian thoroughfare that is oft portrayed in cinema and in Francophile’s imaginations. Considered Old Nice with 18th-century homes framing the perimeter and bins are brimming with sachets filled with rose petals, lavender buds and other floral scents. Everything is precious and pretty here, whether it’s blatantly the cornets of orange blossoms, irises and mimosas, the tables of aromatic honeys and soaps, or the row after row of vibrantly-colored gummy and marzipan fruit candies that look better than they taste.
There is always something curious and organic happening at this popular market Tuesdays through Sundays. The Saturday market in Portland State University in particular is one of learning and gleaning knowledge about what you’re purchasing as you gather new ingredients to try at home or on the road, as many of the vendors are integral parts of Portland’s sustainable food scene. Naturally, experts can be found on either side of the register because vendors and customers have a wealth of suggestions and freely share recipes and offer hands-on in kitchen demos and cooking tips.
The unique architecture of the cast-iron roofed Mercado is where fishmongers and pescatarians unite to bargain good prices on abalone, sea bass, sea urchin, conger eels, and whatever else has been lured from the miles of Pacific coastline. The street market in all it’s frenetic interior activity, is languid and lazy outside perhaps inspired by the sweet and friendly wild dogs or sprawl on sunlit squares and the musicians harmonizing Pink Floyd songs. Check out the vibrant artistry of the painted rose man.
The edible treasures of the Gulf Coast region are sold on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, at three different locations, with the latter day located in the central Warehouse District. Besides Gulf Coast fruit and vegetable crops, the Jazz City delivers freshly caught fish, farm-raised meats, and specialty gourmet items. The markets have helped foster activism in support of post Katrina and Rita damage. The result has brought in more vendors of fair trade, recycled and artisanal goods.
Castries Market (St. Lucia)
The post-colonial Caribbean market is dotted with bright umbrellas that shade the sun—just not the flies. Those insects have good taste though as the daily market boasts over-priced coconuts, massive avocados and green breadfruit alongside local spices like: star anise, nutmeg and vanilla. The weekend is the best time to come as a tourist as the vendors are less zealous toward outsiders. Try the aphrodisiac tea (bois bande) and gourmet specialty items like the assortment of hot and very hot sauces and chutneys. There are roving kitchens at the end of the market where cooks make such local delicacies as sweet potato pudding, and for the brave, cow heel soup.
Said to be the oldest continuously operating farmer’s market in the United States, in the 120-year-old market within the nerve center of Amish Country feeds Amish, Mennonite, and hipster customers and vendors alike. To eat locally as a meat-eater is to indulge in Pennsylvania Dutch sausage, scrapple and headcheese. Herbivores satiate with such delicacies as chowchow (pickled vegetables in a spicy mustard). The market is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and is year-round. Lancaster is home to other farmer’s markets throughout the seasons and an electricity free organic Amish grocery.
Mercado de la Merced (Mexico City, Mexico)
Voyeuristically stunning with the bright vibrant colors of textiles and food dotting the four entire blocks of Mexican packed with street cuisine and Mayan artesania. Those hesitant to ingest the piles of open chiles, nopales, guavas, platanos and queso blanco blocks, find pleasure in Instagramming images of such products laid out in such unabashed ubiquity.
With fertile farmland surrounding the big city, regardless of the weather, the Chicago market is open year round on Saturdays and again on Wednesdays come summer and fall. Like many big markets that triumph with variety, the city market is second wave with such highlights as live cooking demonstrations by the city’s more famous chefs, along with cooking and gardening classes led by local experts.
Chatuchak Market (Bangkok, Thailand)
The weekend market is one of the largest in the world with more than 5,000 stalls stretching across 35 acres and a vast array of products to accommodate the more than 2000,000 estimated visitors (local and tourist alike) a day. It’s dizzying for sure, but because of it’s expansive audacity, worth the exploration if not to imagine how the US health department likely would suggest not running a large-scale market. Like many markets in developing nations, the food and live animals are awkwardly located in the same vicinity. Surrender and try some deep fried insects, or, avert your eyes and nose to the perusing of religious figures and handicrafts distract with their uniqueness and beauty too.
You don’t have to leave the country to get exotic tropical fruits and vegetables locally—just get off the mainland. An all day authentic and decidedly not touristy event occurring every Wednesday and Saturday, Hilo, located at the foothills of two volcanoes (one dormant and one active) makes for some risk but also some breathtaking scenery. The community is a blend of Polynesian, Asian and European culture and the oft more than two hundred vendors hustling their wares reflect such diversity with local crafts, artworks, artisanal food products and tropical flowers.
Farmers market photo via Shutterstock