I don’t know about you but for me the places I mostly enjoy visiting during my travels abroad are the local food markets.
From the market of Humauaca in the Jujuy Province of Argentina to the central market of Arusha in Tanzania and from the Borough Market in London to Ballarò in Palermo, I have been visiting so many markets that I learnt about vegetables which I didn’t even know as well as so many different recipes that I sometimes feel there is no better way to understand the local culture then visiting a food market.
In South America I often wondered why mash potatoes were so tasty and so different from those I make at home. Then I entered a food market in Purmamarca, and then in Humauaca, and then in Salta and I discovered there are more than 400 types of potatoes that are cultivated on the Andes. They call them Papas Andinas
The texture of such potatoes is really different from those we have in Europe, thus the taste of any potatoe based recipe is verry different, and in a way, better. I discovered that my favourite starred chef, Joel Robuchon, who unfortunately died suddently a couple of years ago, created his famous mash potatoes (la Celebre) using a special kind of Papas Andinas.
In my hometown, Torino (North-West of Italy) the capital of a pretty appreciated food and wine region called Piedmont, there are several food markets, pretty much one per each of the city districts. However there is one, which is located right in the very heart of the city that is considered the largest food market of Europe. It’s called “Mercato di Porta Palazzo” and it covers a surface of more than 60.000 squared meters over Piazza della Repubblica, right behind the Royal Palace.
Porta Palazzo is actually a compound of several buildings and open air booths. By entering the large Piazza from Via Milano the first section on the right is a very big area filled with vegetables and fruits booth, from all over the world. This is the area where people buy stuff that is not cultivated in our Country (such as Avocados) or vegetables that are out of the season in Italy. There really is an immense choice and if you are smart enough to roam around it all before making your first buy or to get to the market late, you get very good deals and buy plenty of vegetables for a very cheap price.
The large Piazza is crossed horizontally by the tram (streetcar), thus once at the crossroads, you will see the mighty liberty-style (Art Nuveau) metal and glass building called “Tettoia dell’Orologio”
This is the place where butchers and bakers show their best products and supply all of us with the local and the national specialties. Sausages, steaks, poultries and much more are available at several booths, while bread, Pizza Focaccia and other bakery products are sold by the rest.
Top info: the glass coverage of the building is home to a contemporary art installation by an Italian Artist called Michelangelo Pistoletto who placed the line “loving the diferences” with neon lights, all over the building, in 40 languages. His aim is to stress out that this area of the city is a true melting pot of cultures because second and third generation migrants from several countries enriched the food supply and peacefully share a common area. The installation is part of the event called “Luci D’Artista“, held every year in Torino from November 2nd till January 6th.
Once you cross Tettoia dell’orologio you find yourself under another metal and glass roof called “Tettoria dei Contadini”. This is an area dedicated to all the local farmers. Those who have fields around the urban area of Torino at a distance of approx 50 Km, have their booth here. Don’t look for tropical fruits (except kiwi which are massively cultivated in Piedmont) neither for peppers in february as you will only find seasonal vegetables here. By the time I am writing this post it’s Cabbage season in Italy, thus you will find cabbages of every kind and colour at every farmer’s booth.
Two more buildings complete the market: the fish building and the second Butchery and Bakery building. The fish market is a small horse shoe shaped building with a pproximately 10 booths where fish is sold. Most of them here are run by migrants, especially from Latin America. The second butchery building is mostly occupied by Halal booths. This is were the majority of the Islamic people get their meat supply.
The market is held 6 days a week: from Monday to Friday it starts very early in the morning (around 6.30) and it ends at 1.00 pm. After that time, the Piazza gets perfectly cleaned by the local sanitation authority and it’s turned into a big parking. On Saturdays the market starts in the morning and terminates around 7.00 pm. It is said that the best deals are offered in late afternoon as farmers prefer to sell all their products rather than going back home with some leftovers they might have to throw away as they won’t look fresh and good anymore the next day.
What about you? Do you also believe food markets are a good way to discover the local cultures?