Farmer’s markets, food halls, and public markets—I love them all
For me, traveling means experiencing new foods—it’s one of the things I look forward to the most when planning a trip. One of the first things I seek out are the food halls, public markets, and farmer’s markets in the area, as they are often the best way to get to know a new food culture. I started doing this very early in my travels, and I thought that I’d share some of my favorites with you.
I’ll keep adding to this, as I fully plan on going to more markets in my travels (more on those to come very soon!). I’d love to hear your favorite farmer’s markets, food halls, and public markets—let me know in the comments, so that I can add them to my list!
In search of the taste of New Hampshire’s summer at the local farm stand
Friday afternoon, my dad and I set out to find some local seasonal produce, specifically sweet corn, early tomatoes (New Hampshire is a bit north), green beans, and peaches. We thought that we knew of a farmer’s market, but it turns out that we were wrong. Instead, we went to the market stand at Surowiec Farm in at the top of a graceful hill in Sanborton.
While not the festive market we sought, the stand was still convivial with neighbors there to pick blueberries and customers like my dad and me gathering just-picked produce for our dinner. Which, by the way, tasted exactly of summer. Really, there’s nothing like a plate of sweet corn; crisp, bright green beans; and tomatoes dressed wtih a little sea salt, herbs from the garden, and some olive oil. I want to grill the peaches.
Early farmer’s market experience: Portsmouth Farmer’s Market
Back in the early 2000s, when I lived in New Hampshire’s Seacoast region, summer Saturdays meant a trip to the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market. No ordinary collection of tents in a parking lot, this farmers’ market felt more like a weekly festival with music and food stands (this was when food trucks were still known mostly as “roach coaches” and were found primarily at construction sites), and everyone made a morning of it.
I didn’t really know how to cook then, but I still went every Saturday to load up on veggies from farmers I got to know, and then make some sort of makeshift stir-fry when I got home that I called “Vegetable Pig Out.” It would be a couple of years before I fell in love with cooking, but the market: that was love at first sight.
Gallery: Borough Market, London
Seeking out public markets, food halls, and farmer’s markets in my early travels
So enamored I was with food markets that early in my travels I started seeking them out as a way to get to know a place. On my first trip to London, I walked over to Borough Market and got supplies for a little picnic that was a highlight of my trip.
My sister took me to market day in Orvieto, Italy, where, along with your artichokes, zucchini flowers, and cheeses made by gods, you could also buy dresses and other fashionable items each week at the Piazza del Popolo Market. Young and old alike flocked to the lively market, and it was an event.
Gallery: Piazza del Popolo Market, Orvieto
What was it that drew me to public markets, food halls, and farmer’s markets?
In those early travels, I found myself reflecting on what the markets said about the people who made them, including the Portsmouth Farmer’s Market. More than just ways to purchase necessary items to keep us alive, these farmer’s markets, food halls, and public markets celebrated good, local food. They brough people together over what’s unique to that particular place and time—for such markets also remind us of nature’s seasons and cycles.
Both Borough Market and Orvieto’s Piazza del Popolo Market remain treasured food and travel memories, and if you find yourself in London or in Umbrian hill towns, you should absolutely seek them out. Below are more that I’ve discovered in my travels.
My favorite public markets, food halls, and farmer’s markets from my travels
I’ve put these in alphabetical order by city, but that shouldn’t be seen as a preference. I’ve loved each of these markets in their own way.
Public Markets, Food Halls, and Farmer's Markets
Gallery: La Boqueria, Barcelona
Barcelona’s public market jewel: La Boqueria
I still dream of the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota I purchased at Bacelona’s famed La Boqueria. Open since the 1830s, La Boqueria is one of the world’s best public markets. What can’t you get there? You can eat a delicious meal, get wonderous produce, meats, seafood, sweets, and spices.
You’ll find chefs, locals, and tourists alike, marveling over the bounty contained in this beautiful treasure. La Boqueria is absolutely wonderful, and you simply must go.
Gallery: Hunyadi Square Market, Budapest
Budapest’s hidden gem local market: Hunyadi Square Market
Budapest is filled with market halls and farmers’ markets, the most famous (and also the wildly touristy) being the Great Market Hall. Taking a spin through the Great Market Hall is grand fun, but if you really want to get to know authentic Hungarian food, try the lesser-known market halls. I found Rákóczi Market Hall to be both lovely and delicious.
However, the market that truly won my heart was the one right around the corner from where I stayed, the Hunyadi Square Market. Don’t let the somewhat dilapidated exterior intimidate you—here, you will be the only person not speaking Hungarian, and you won’t find touristy knickknacks. You will find an entire stand devoted to pickled things, though, and you should get some, because they are really good. It’s a good idea to either know what you’re ordering, or just point to something, though, because they mean business.
On Mondays and at least one other weekday, you can find a farmer’s market across from the hall and lining the park behind it, where you can get fruits, vegetables, jams, and the like. Tarry in the park for a while and experience life as it is lived in this little corner of Budapest.
Gallery: The Goods Shed, Canterbury
Canterbury: The Goods Shed
I’m a seasoned traveler, and I’ve navigated complex travel arrangements in many languages not my own. So, I always find it hilarious that my most spectacular failure happened in the UK, in my native language. On the weekend that saw the 2018 Beast from the East storm in the UK (which, by this New Englander’s judgement, was really rather adorable—the snow almost covered the ground!), I was in the UK on an extended business trip.
My business took me to Oxford, but as I’d only ever been to London and Oxford, a friend suggested that I meet up with her and her family in Margate. I took the train from Oxford to London, switched stations, and then got on what I thought was the right train. It was indeed going in the right direction, but I had somehow missed one and got on a later one.
I made a mistake
I had no idea until I noticed that it was just about time to be in Margate, and we were nowhere near Margate. So, I texted my friend in a panic—this was a bit of a complicated meetup, schedule-wise. She told me to get off in Canterbury instead (this was technically ill-advised, because you’re not supposed to take the break in your journey until you’re on your way back, but since I was not actually going all the way to Margate, I figured that it would be OK, and it was).
“Wait for us at the Goods Shed,” she texted. It’s right off the train station. I got my mortified self off of the train and into the shed.
That happy accident led me to the Goods Shed, a delightful farmer’s market
Dear Reader, I’ve never had a more delightful accidental meet up spot. The Goods Shed has a restaurant, but it’s also a farmers’ market, and a darling one at that. It being winter, there wasn’t a ton of local produce, but I did spy some duck eggs, and got a wonderful coffee while waiting for my very understanding friend to arrive. Even with the “Beast” raging outside, the Kentish market was crowded with people getting supplies for cozy dinners.
Gallery: Hakaniemi Kauppahalli, Helsinki
Helsinki’s local food hall: Hakaniemi Kauppahalli
Helsinki has a beautifully restored food hall in Market Square that’s worth a spin through for the charm of it, but if you want a genuine experience, head to Hakaniemi Kauppahalli. Built in the early 20th century, this Kallio food hall features two floors, with food vendors on the first floor, and crafts on the second (you can also find a little Marimekko shop). On the weekends, it gets busy, but I went on a weekday, when it was fairly quiet. I most definitely was the only tourist there (or the only person not speaking Finnish, at least).
Regardless of what day you go, you should absolutely get some delicious soup at Soppakeittiö (Soup & More), made with local meat and fish. Then see if you’re brave enough to try reindeer jerky from one of the stalls (I’m not a jerky fan, generally, but it was interesting). After that, wander around and see what looks good. When you’re finished, get a coffee at the little café on the second floor.
My visit to Finland was in late April, so there wasn’t a ton of local produce available, but I did get some Ruisreikäleipä, a traditional rye bread with a hole in the middle, two kinds of cheese (including squeaky cheese, because it’s delicious with cloudberry jam, which I had already scored elsewhere), and some hothouse greens. All delicious.
Gallery: Mercado da Ribeira/Time Out Market, Lisbon
Lisbon’s renewed historic food hall and public market: Mercado da Ribeira/Time Out Market
After you’ve eaten at Lisbon’s Time Out Market, be sure to check out Mercado da Ribeira, including the fish and vegetable section that’s not directly associated with the market. Mercado da Ribeira dates back to the twelfth century (though in a different location) and moved to the current area in the late nineteenth. Time Out took over the restored market hall in 2014. This is a seriously good food hall and not only worth a visit to get a fantastic meal for a song, but also to stock up on local food products (I may or may not have packed mostly tinned fish in my carry on heading home). I’ve included this in my Wonder & Sundry Guide to Lisbon, available to subscribers.
Gallery: Marché Jean-Talon, Montréal
Montréal’s glorious public market: Marché Jean-Talon
You eat exceedingly well in Montréal, and that is down to Quebecois producers. At Marché Jean-Talon, Montréal’s original and oldest public market, you’ll find chefs and locals loading up on fresh produce, artisanal products, and other delights. Don’t miss it, even if you don’t have a kitchen for your accommodation. Montréal has lovely parks, and you can have a fabulous picnic in one of them.
You’ll have a wonderful time exploring the market on your own, but if you’re really interested in learning more about the producers and agriculture in Quebec, I highly recommend the Beyond the Market Tour (plus you get samples! Oh my god, the cheese!).
Gallery: Marché d’Aligre, Paris
Paris on a Sunday: Marché d’Aligre
My first visit to Paris was a long weekend tacked onto a business trip, and I had Marché d’Aligre on Sunday morning as one of the top things I had to do while there. I very much recommend that you do the same, because this market in the 12th arrondissement is a truly Parisian experience.
On Sundays you’ll find, in addition to an incredible farmers’ market and food vendors, also a little flea market, music, and plenty of places to get lunch and/or a glass of wine. Pick up whatever looks good to you at the market for a picnic, and then eat that along the Seine, and your life has no problems.
But first, a croissant
Before you head for the stalls and shops, stop for a croissant at Ble Sucre (it does look like they are closed for the summer) and eat it in the park across the street. Seriously one of the best croissants I’ve ever had.
Then wander through the market. It’s crowded, so do take care not to get in people’s way. I’d make your way thought the market before deciding on purchases, but it’s all wonderful.
A few tips for the picnic of your life
This is a good chance to practice your French (but pointing generally works)! Follow the lead of others, and give yourself a little grace if you get some gruff responses (honestly, I think of it as part of the charm). Just don’t touch anything yourself, and you should be fine.
On one trip, I picked up figs and fresh chevre, along with some items for a salad. On another, I bought radishes and salted butter, along with yet more figs, and a delectable soft cheese for my picnic, eaten just across from Île Saint-Louis. One of these trips, I’m going to not have dinner plans, and I am going to buy produce for a feast.
And then wine
Anyhow, once you have your provisions, head to Le Baron Rouge for a glass of red wine and a snack, ordered from the chalkboard signs, and enjoy them outside, as the locals do. I’ve had fun conversations with curious folk there, but I think that you could be left alone easily enough. While you’re sipping your wine, people watch, because you’ll find all sorts walking through here, and not a lot of tourists.
Gallery: Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s historic public market has everything: Reading Terminal Market
An astute reader pointed this one out, and I can’t believe that I forgot it, because I absolutely love it. Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market is one of the oldest public markets in the US and an amazing one. As an adult I’ve only visited Philadelphia for work, but I’ve always made it a point to stop into Reading Terminal Market at least once for lunch or ice cream. It’s a beautiful market and belongs on your list if you’re in town.
Gallery: Mercado Central, Santiago
Santiago’s historic market hall: Mercado Central
It just so happened that my apartment in Santiago was mere steps from the city’s famed Mercado Central, open since 1872. Primarily a fish market, you can also find produce, cheeses, and the best empanadas (Zunino) I’ve had. I spent a fair amount of time walking through the market while in Santiago.
The main market building is lovely, and worth going to just for the architecture. Overall, the atmosphere is lively and fun. It’s also touristy, but it’s not over the top. You’ll still find a lot of locals in the fish stalls and shops surrounding the main hall.
Be sure to walk around the main market hall as well, both for snaps and for delights like cheeses (and said empanadas).
What are your favorite public markets, food halls, and farmer’s markets?
My Wanderlust List is long indeed, and I have many more markets to get to in my travels! What are your favorite public markets, food halls, and farmer’s markets? Let me know in the comments, and I shall add them to my list!
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