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Culinary Travel: The Best Food Markets in the World

4/3/17 by Samantha Larson

If you really want to get to know a city, there’s no better way to dig in than by visiting the local food markets. The place where locals shop and eat can tell you so much about a city’s culture and tastes, while illuminating the differences (and similarities) between it and where you call home. It also provides a greater appreciation for where the local food comes from prior to winding up on your dinner plate. In fact, when you’ve spent some time sampling a city’s local fare—from the fresh salmon of Vancouver, to the tapas of Barcelona, to the fruits of the Caribbean in St. Lucia—you might start to notice something funny happen: You might realize you’ve fallen for the place. After all, they say the best way to the heart is through the stomach.

Here, our recommendations for the most swoon-worthy food markets from around the world. Bon appétit!

1. Granville Island Public Market; Vancouver, Canada

Cheese, charcuterie, and hearty sandwiches are among the goodies up for grabs at the Granville Public Market.
Cheese, charcuterie, and hearty sandwiches are among the goodies up for grabs at the Granville Public Market. Scott Schiller

With an abundance of locally grown fruits and veggies, fresh-caught seafood, and multicultural influences, it’s no wonder Vancouverregularly makes the lists of theworld’s best food destinations. And the Granville Island Public Market is one of the best places to take in the city’s delectable tastes and smells. Located just south of downtown, Granville Island—which is actually a peninsula that juts into False Creek—was once an industrial area, home to factories and saw mills. Today, however, the rows of indoor shops and stalls house vendors who sell newly picked produce, fresh meats and seafood, artisanal cheese and charcuterie, as well as other goods like handcrafted jewelry, art, and soaps.

To get the most out of a day on Granville Island, take one of the whimsicalFalse Creek Ferries from downtown, then see the market withVancouver Foodie Tours. Well-versed guides will tell you about the local history and culture, and take you for tastings at some of the market’s best stands.

2. La Boqueria; Barcelona, Spain

La Boqueria is one of the best food markets in Spain—and all of Europe, for that matter.
La Boqueria is one of the best food markets in Spain—and all of Europe, for that matter. Manuel MartÌn

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria—or just "La Boqueria"—is one of Europe’s oldest and most well known culinary sites. Located at the heart of La Rambla (the famous pedestrian mall), La Boqueria’s roots go all the way back to the early 1200s, and it remains a bustling foodtropolis today. Walking through the market, you’ll be able to sample Spanish staples like jamón (ham), olives, and cheese, and, if you’re lucky, even sit down for some of the best tapas available in the city, by snagging a seat on one of the 14 stools at Bar Pinotxo. Thisnearly 100 year-old establishment serves up Catalan classics like pa amb tomàquet (toast with a tomato rub) and esqueixada (a salad with shredded salt cod). Whatever your fancy, take note that the market does get crowded: by 2 pm, you’ll hardly have enough space to move, let alone eat, so get there early if you want to have a bite. (And keep in mind that the sheer number of tourists in Barcelona as of late have started to irk the locals, so do your best to be respectable in the market—i.e., browsing is great, but buying something is better—here and elsewhere throughout the city.)

3. Egyptian Bazaar; Istanbul, Turkey

The Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul is full of exotic teas and spices.
The Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul is full of exotic teas and spices. Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho

Walking into the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul, your senses will be awash in fragrance and color. Also known as the Spice Bazaar, this indoor market—just a short walk away from the Grand Bazaar that sells everything from rugs to shoes to tourist trinkets—specializes in edible goods. In particular, there is a cornucopia of spices, teas, nuts, dried fruit, and traditional Turkish sweets. Roam dozens of aisles of neatly piled spices like cinnamon, paprika, and sumac, teas like hibiscus and jasmine, locally grown nuts like hazelnuts and pistachios, and don’t leave without indulging your sweet tooth with some lokum (Turkish delight) or pestil (fruit leather). And don’t forget to pick up some spices as a souvenir: They back beautifully and don’t take up much space.

4. Great Market Hall; Budapest, Hungary

Budapest’s Great Market Hall is 10,000 square feet of foodie paradise.
Budapest’s Great Market Hall is 10,000 square feet of foodie paradise. Randy Connolly

Budapest’s Great Market Hall is grand by any measure. The 10,000-square-meter structure, designed and built by Samu Pecz in the 1890s, boasts the high ceilings of a gothic cathedral, steel framework reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, and the bustling atmosphere of a train station. The architecture alone makes the place well worth a visit. But, of course, that’s not the *only *thing that makes the Great Market Hall stand out: There is the food, too. Lots of it.

On the ground level of the market’s three floors, you’ll find the basics, like produce, meats, spices, and spirits. The second floor hosts eateries and shops that sell trinkets and souvenirs. The basement can be easy to miss, but leaving without seeing it would be a shame: It’s home to the butcher shops, fish stands, and a head-spinning array of Hungarian pickled foods, pickled cauliflower, pickled cabbage, pickled garlic, pickled beets, pickled tomatoes, and, yes, pickled cucumbers.

5. Mercado Central; Santiago, Chile

Seafood is abundant  in La Vega Central.
Seafood is abundant in La Vega Central. CucombreLibre

One of the city’s three centrally located markets—along with La Vega Chica and La Vega Central—Mercado Central is Santiago’s seafood market, showcasing the offerings of the country’s very long coast. Not only is it a great place to browse the stands of salmon, tuna, shellfish, and more, it’s also a great place to sit down for lunch and indulge in Chilean favorites like paila marina and machas a la parmesana. Take note that while you’ll likely be directed to the restaurants located in the center of the building, as these are the establishments that cater toward tourists, you’ll likely find a better (and less expensive) lunch where the locals eat, on the building’s perimeter.

6. Castries Market; Castries, St. Lucia

Exotic fruits are on display at the Castries Market in St. Lucia.
Exotic fruits are on display at the Castries Market in St. Lucia. Meng He

From sour sop to starfruit to breadfruit, the Caribbean island of St. Lucia produces a medley of delicious fruits that can make your everyday American apples and oranges seem downright ho-hum. The Castries Market, housed in and around a historic 1894 building, is a perfect opportunity to sample them, and to stock up on other island offerings such as locally caught fish or spices like mace, star anise, or cinnamon.

7. Tsukiji Fish Market; Tokyo, Japan

The Tsukiji market showcases the best of Japan’s seafood offerings.
The Tsukiji market showcases the best of Japan’s seafood offerings. Aussie Assault

No country takes their fish as seriously as Japan, and the Tsukiji market in central Tokyo is the biggest seafood market in the world. While visiting the inner wholesale market, where upward of 900 vendors operate, requires special access, anyone can witness the seafood bounty of the outer market. If you really want to see the action, however, you’ll have to arrive bright and early. That’s because thefamous tuna auction begins most days at 5:25 am, and the lines to be one of the 60 people who can watch at a time start well before then.

Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.