If you really want to get to know a city, don't waste your time combing through restaurant reviews and hitting all the tourist attractions. Instead, head straight to the markets.
It's there, amid stalls of fruit hawkers and butcher counters, where you'll taste the true flavor of wherever you're traveling. You'll see how the locals shop and maybe meet a few along the way. And if you head to one of these 10 mazelike markets, you'll get to sample the best food the city has to offer.
Marché Bastille in Paris, France
Fresh scallops for sale at Marche Bastille | Photo: Kim Rogerson/Getty Images
Choosing the best market in Paris, let alone France, is a tough call. But we’re going with Marché Bastille, because it’s gigantic, steeped in history and set in the shadow of the impressive Colonne de Juillet monument, which commemorates the 1830 revolution. Sample choucroute, an Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and various meats; buy a jar of freshly made yogurt; or try a bite of a galette. Ogle the pristine fruits and veggies, multicolored organic eggs, fresh-baked bread and vibrant flowers. Finally, we dare you to resist buying a hunk of Camembert, Comte or Tomme, and a still-warm baguette.
Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan
Tsukiji Fish Market | Photo: Elizabeth Beard/Getty Images
It’s no surprise Tokyo is home to the best and largest fish market in the world, Tsukiji Market. Getting up early (or maybe you never fall asleep, because jet lag) for the boisterous daily 5 a.m. tuna auction is a must at this sprawling wholesale fish market (but be mindful: Space for the public is limited). After the auction, sit down at one of the many sushi counters for breakfast surrounded by fishmongers and cooks picking up their daily fish supplies. You can also find produce, real wasabi and sashimi knives.
Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) in Istanbul, Turkey
Shoppers at Spice Bazaar, Istanbul | Photo: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images
Though spices are a focus, the Ottoman-era, covered Spice Bazaar has vendors selling all kinds of foods, from floral tea and stringy cheese to halvah and grape leaves. Towering bowls of nut-stuffed dates and colorful turkish delights mingle with the vivid and aromatic spice pyramids of sumac, pul biber (dried red pepper flakes) and nigella seeds. As customers fill the aisles and haggle with shopkeepers, the sounds of the market echo off the high ceiling, which dates back to 1664. Just outside is a small alfresco café selling fresh kanafeh (a cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup) in small metal plates over hot coals. Order one and take a seat; you won’t regret it.
St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, Canada
St. Lawrence Market | Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Toronto is filled with immigrants from all over the world, and it shows when you stroll through the three buildings of St. Lawrence Market. There's the South Market, which has more than 120 vendors selling food like fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, baked goods and dairy; The North Market, which hosts the Saturday Farmer's Market, a tradition that began in 1803, and on Sundays brings in dozens of antiques dealers; and St. Lawrence Hall, which houses retail businesses on the ground floor. Try the Montreal-style bagels from St. Urbain, the pastel de nata (eggy Portuguese tarts) from Churrasco of St. Clair, pierogi from European Delight, and the veal sandwich from Uno Mustachio.
Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem, Israel
Ingredients for sale at Machane Yehuda | Photo: Noam Cohen/Getty Images
Shuks ("markets" in Hebrew) abound throughout Israel, but one of the largest is Machane Yehuda, with its winding side alleys and hole-in-the-wall stalls selling everything from gooey rugelach and super-fresh produce to fragrant Middle Eastern spices and housewares. Standout stalls include Uzi-Eli, which sells etrog (citron) juices and beauty products said to have medicinal benefits; Mamlechet HaHalva (The Halva Kingdom), which has mounds of halvah in a rainbow of flavors; and Mousseline Jerusalem, known for its unusual ice cream flavors. Cafés and restaurants like Azura, Machneyuda and Hachapuria also make great lunch spots.
Pro tip: Go Friday morning when the city is preparing for the Sabbath, which starts at sundown.
La Boquería in Barcelona, Spain
Tourists take photos at La Boqueria | Photo: QUIQUE GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Said to date back to the year 1217, Mercado de San José de la Boquería, known as La Boquería, has existed in Barcelona in some form or another since the Middle Ages and is undoubtedly one of Europe’s best markets. With hundreds of stalls hawking Spanish dietary staples like offal, charcuterie, shiny olives, fresh seafood and fillets of salted cod, it’s impossible not to find what you’re craving—just follow the huge legs of jamón Ibérico dangling from the ceiling. Sprinkled throughout the market are intimate bars selling drinks, tapas and pintxos, the most famous being Bar Pinotxo by the entrance. But, really, you can't go wrong.
Mercato di Mezzo in Bologna, Italy
Customers shop for fresh fish at the Mercato di Mezzo | Photo: In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
After years of disrepair, the historic main market in the city of Bologna, Mercato di Mezzo (aka Middle Market), was reopened in 2014 by Oscar Farinetti of Eataly in an effort to bring back a market to the heart of Bologna. Housed in a 19th-century building, the Mercato's ground floor boasts stalls like Centrale del Gusto, which offers pastries, ice cream and coffee, and Pescheria del Pavaglione, which sells cones of fried fish to eat while you shop. The first floor has La Pizza di Eataly, while the basement is home to Baladin, a cult-favorite craft brewery. It’s open every day until midnight, making it the perfect spot to explore the region’s food anytime.
Ferry Building and Plaza in San Francisco, California
A local sells fresh baked goods at the Ferry Building and Plaza | Photo: Nat & Cody
San Francisco’s Ferry Building originally opened in 1898 as a ferry station. Now it’s home to dozens of merchants selling small-batch food items and an outdoor farmers' market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sample cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, pear ginger scones from Biscuit Bender, dark chocolate from Dandelion Chocolate and brown sugar fennel ice cream from Humphry Slocombe. And since you’re in California, you know the produce is some of the best in the country; expect to see some of your favorite local chefs there on Saturday mornings.
Borough Market in London, England
Visitors browsing the food stalls at Borough Market | Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images
A sprawling outdoor market with local and imported foods from all over Europe, Borough Market is one of the oldest food markets in London. There’s a large open area devoted to produce and plenty of hidden passages to discover stalls like New Forest Cider, which makes traditional mead and cider; Furness Fish, Poultry & Game Supplies, which serves bomba paella out of giant pans; seafood monger Shellseekers; and Northfield Farm, which sells heritage meat from a family-run farm—try a salt beef sandwich. The cheese purveyors are a special bunch, too. Stop by The Bath Soft Cheese Co., Swiss cheese specialist Jumi Cheese and Neal’s Yard Dairy for local specialities like sharp English cheddar and red Leicester. And don’t forget to swing by the sweets section for clotted cream fudge from Whirld and goat's-milk ice cream from Greedy Goat.
Mercado de la Merced in Mexico City, Mexico
Dried chilies on display at Mercado de la Merced | Photo: Loop Images/UIG via Getty Images
Mexico City is brimming with stall-filled markets inside large warehouses; each neighborhood has at least a few, focusing on everything from piñatas to pets to Santeria to, of course, food. The city’s largest and most central is Mercado de la Merced, near the historic city center. It’s overwhelming for sure (you may want to hire a guide), but once you start roaming the aisles and asking for samples, you’ll be captivated by butchered meat hanging from the ceilings, rows of women seated on low stools trimming nopals (cactus paddles), bowls of fried insects, and mounds of mole and bright-red chiles. Snack on french fry-topped tacos, posole, quesadillas, candied fruits and freshly sliced mamey (tastes like a cross between an avocado and a papaya).
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