I have an obsession with markets. Let's be nice, and call it a fascination. Whenever I travel, I love to visit the local market. It’s not only street markets – I also enjoy visiting supermarkets in other countries. I find it interesting to see what they have on the shelves, what spices they use, what types of cheeses they make, whatever is different. But back to the local markets –
In Southeast Asia, the bus stations are most often located next to the local market. Convenient for locals going to market, but also super for travellers such as myself! Always easy to find, you can always find me at the local market, no matter how small the town. Even when I was pescatarian, I found these markets fascinating. They often had a whole animal laid out on the table and for sale. Take the pig for sale in a small town in Laos – head, trotters, tongue, intestines, belly, kidneys, ears. We’re talking no food waste – someone will come along and buy that intestine or ear or pig’s head for a family recipe.
My friend and travelling companion, Amy, must have gotten tired of visiting these markets every time we went to a new place, but no matter how small the town, I wanted to check out the local market. Even in small countries such as Laos and Cambodia, the variety of goods for sale can be different from village to town, north to south. Varieties of aubergine, types of rice, different potatoes.
In Central America, I did the same. Find the local market and look for fruits and vegetables I don’t recognise. In Turkey, I found a small produce market in the streets of Istabul with the most beautiful diversity of peppers. On market day, I visited Izmir in Turkey specifically for the market, and it was pumping. The whole town opens for the market, and oh my goodness, the fresh tomatoes at this market might have been the most beautiful I’ve ever seen! I wanted to eat them all, along with the fresh cheeses we found. In Shanghai I visited a local market under a freeway, where no one spoke English, and I just pointed and grinned a lot.
This trip has been no different. I was in Sevilla long enough to visit the Mercado de Calle Feria and buy my breakfast fruit from the same vendor multiple times. I’m pretty sure he didn’t remember me, but I remember his Paraguayo peaches.
In Lisbon, I was told by friends and guidebooks about the Time Out market. It’s the old produce and everything market in Lisbon, and they’ve converted one side of the market into a foodies heaven.
Stalls from various kitchens around the city line the outside, creating and selling favourites from their menu. Seating is in the middle which leaves you to pick one or two items from several stalls, get a drink from the bar, and then enjoy your Portuguese feast. I ate there twice while in Lisbon, and could have easily ventured a third time.
In San Diego, I went with friends to the new Liberty Public Market. A similar concept to Lisbon, there are various food stalls selling everything from Thai curries to jambalaya to empanadas to Maine lobster to gourmet pastries. With perfect weather in San Diego, they have seating outside and in, with a bar hosting plenty of local beers on tap, and a wine bar to choose a glass that matches your food.
These markets are how I’ve become familiar with various fruits and vegetables from around the world. I’ve examined menus, tried different foods, eaten local specialities. I don’t always speak the language, but you can learn a lot through hand gestures and facial expressions. My fascination with markets has carried into my life in Wellington. I always visit the Sunday vegetable market for my weekly produce. I’ve been going to these markets since I first moved to Wellington in 2005, and no matter the weather, you can find me there!