Europe’s age-old food bazaars reflect local flavor.
By Raphael Kadushin
From the October issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Today no chef worth his or her whisk would consider planning a daily menu without checking in with regional suppliers and pinching the local produce for ripeness. But this isn’t news. European hausfraus have been doing it for centuries. It’s called going to market. And the food markets, still thriving in most European cities and towns, rate a visit even if you aren’t stocking your larder. In fact, they offer authentic local experiences to travelers and lessons in culinary and cultural traditions.
Naschmarkt › Vienna, Austria
Vienna’s snaking strip of an alfresco market may have started as a mittel European buffet, but today, the variety of goods and delicacies sold here reflects the city’s blended population. You can still find wooden barrels, big enough to bathe in, filled with more sauerkraut than any hot dog stand vendor could plow through. But there are also Iranian figs, Java peppers, Tunisian olive oil, and Italian prosciutto. And the surrounding stalls that turn the market into a food court dish up every- thing from gyros to Shanghai dumplings. But if you’re in the mood for more of a classic Austrian culinary waltz, you can count on schnitzel served every which way.
Cours Saleya › Nice, France
This isn’t one of Europe’s larger outdoor markets, but Nice’s favorite photo op is a contender for one of the most sun-splashed and inviting markets, starting with the colorful striped awnings tenting the vendors’ stalls and the array of fresh flowers. Local chefs scour the stalls for the Provençal harvest, including white asparagus, olives, and eggplants. But if you’re more interested in eating on-site, grab a slice of the socca, a buttery chickpea-flour crepe that vendors cut into strips and drop into paper cones. Don’t miss: The house where Matisse once lived, painted a burst of yellow, anchors the old town plaza filled with vendors selling signature Nicoise treats.
Rialto Markets › Venice, Italy
Before the gondolas crowd the Grand Canal with their daily bumper crop of people, a grittier flotilla of barges, piled with fresh produce and every kind of daily catch, floats down the waterway at dawn. The procession supplies the morning-only Rialto market, just around the corner from its namesake bridge, with its pyramids of fruits and vegetables. The fish stalls of the adjoining seafood market, though, have drawn locals for centuries for the soft-shell crabs and razor clams that show up in the best trattoria risottos and evoke Venice’s defining briny flavor.
Boqueria Mercat › Barcelona, Spain
An pillar of Barcelona’s central boulevard La Rambla, the wrought-iron Boqueria is a city landmark opened in 1840. One of the largest indoor food markets in Europe, the gastronomic hub features a marathon Catalan food spread, including Ibérico ham, wild forest mushrooms, and a section of seafood called the Island of Fish. The market’s cluster of bars and cafés shows off what locals can do with that bounty; an obligatory breakfast at the Pinotxo tapas bar near the Boqueria’s main entrance should start with the pillowy salt cod croquettes and a cortado—espresso with steamed milk.
What’s your favorite European market? Tell us in the comments section below.
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[More: Top 10 Food Markets]