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  • Writer's pictureMatias

My top 5 countries for food markets

Exploring the global feast: why local Food Markets are a must-visit in every country!

Market of La Merced

This post is a tribute to one of my absolute favourite things in life: food markets. As spring approaches in just a few weeks, Londoners will start venturing outdoors more and more, leaving behind months of grim weather and even wearing shorts in mild temperatures. But that's the spirit - the return from hibernation and the celebration of enjoying a bit of park and market life, something this city is always so proud of. But first things first, what exactly is a food market?


For me, markets are more than just places to buy groceries and enjoy delicious bites—they're a melting pot of culinary heritage, where visitors come together to celebrate food in all its glory. However, I want to invite you to look beyond London's famous markets (read my previous blogpost) and expand this concept worldwide. Markets in this city are quite different from the municipal or central markets you'll find around the world. They're refined, focusing on a limited and perfect selection of fresh foods, highlighting world cuisine and boutique products. In contrast, the markets I truly call markets are 'filterless'- an extravaganza of products, strong smells, chaos and other miscellaneous items all thrown into the mix. Imagine combining Smithfield, a Sunday farmer's market, and Portobello Road Market, where hanging offal shares the same counter with food stalls. Can you picture that?


Over the last decade, I've had the pleasure of visiting markets throughout South and Central America, Europe, Eastern Europe, and as far as East Asia, where food meets ancient culture and traditions. My number one recommendation for people traveling to a new destination is to visit the central or municipal market right away. As you stroll through the alleys and hidden paths of each market, you'll start connecting with communities because food is an integral part of culture and heritage—the soul of a community. The aromas, colours, shapes, people, and array of unique products in these places always transport me to a different dimension and time. Normally, you'll find imperfect produce, bigger than the average found in supermarkets, covered in dirt, humble, but presented in the way people used to centuries ago. This can be particularly experienced in capitals and their traditional markets, such as in countries like Peru, Mexico, to Thailand and Hong Kong.


Whether you're a seasoned traveller or someone who just loves good eats, traditional food markets offer an unbeatable experience that's both delicious and culturally fascinating.


 

The best countries for food markets


Exploring markets in over 50 countries has been a fascinating journey, filled with a variety of flavours, sights, and sounds. Among the many markets I've visited, a few have made a lasting impression. From cosy local gatherings to bustling city hubs, these markets provide insight into their respective cultures. While Europe has its fair share of charming markets, there are five countries that offer particularly unique experiences.

Let's dive into these foodie havens and see what tasty treats they've got - get excited!


Peru | Lima and Cusco

Peru is currently hailed as a paradise for food lovers, and its markets provide a glimpse into why it's earned such acclaim in the culinary world. The country's diverse climates, ranging from jungle to sea to mountains, offer an incredible variety of produce. In Peruvian markets, you'll encounter an astonishing range of products, including an impressive collection of over 4,000 potato varieties, putting England's famed potato diversity to shame.


During my recent trip to Peru, I made sure to explore as many markets as possible, from Lima to Cusco and beyond. Lima's Central market, nestled in the historic centre near Chinatown, offers a lively mix of local flavour and international flair. It's a bustling hub where you can experience the heart of the city's culinary scene amidst thousands of locals going about their daily shopping. Similarly, Cusco's main market, San Pedro, located just outside the historic centre, provides a vibrant and expansive shopping experience. From food and drinks to antiques and other treasures, this market is a testament to the city's rich cultural heritage and bustling atmosphere.


Both Lima's and Cusco's central markets are must-visit destinations for anyone curious about Peru's culinary traditions and heritage.


Pictures: Central Market of Lima and Cusco


Mexico | CDMX and Oaxaca

Mexican cuisine holds a special place in my heart, and the way locals live and appreciate food is truly remarkable. You can see this in every major city, where people from all walks of life gather at local "carritos" (food trucks) for a quick snack. And when it comes to main markets, Mexico City has plenty to offer, with Mercado de San Juan being a standout. Here, you'll find a lively atmosphere filled with incredible ingredients, fresh produce, and unique treats like crickets, ants, and fiery chillies.


Two other markets in Oaxaca really stood out for me. Mercado de la Merced, a cosy local spot away from the hustle of the city center, is perfect for trying local eats at a relaxed pace. On the flip side, Mercado 20 de Noviembre, smack dab in the city's heart, offers a unique twist with its famous smoke alley. Picture this: a dimly lit and smoke corridor where you can feast on mouth-watering meat cuts. Plus, you can't miss trying my all-time favourite Mexican ingredient: mole. It's a thick paste that ranges from mild to rich, with hints of chocolate and various spice levels. If you're up for exploring the diverse tastes of Mexican cuisine, these two spots are a must-visit!


Pictures: Markets of San Juan, La Merced and 20 de Noviembre.


Greece | Athens 

Greece, with its legendary gods and picturesque islands, always leaves a lasting impression with its charming markets. I've had the pleasure of visiting Greece numerous times, and each new stop unveils an opportunity to discover incredible local products, particularly seafood. However, Athens has one of my absolute favourites is the Varvakios Central Municipal Market. Situated in the bustling heart of the city centre, it offers an extensive range of goods and a lively atmosphere. As you make your way through the streets to this delightful market, you might even stumble upon ancient ruins, adding an extra layer of magic to your experience. It's the perfect blend of history, culture, and culinary delights - a must-visit for anyone exploring Athens!


Spain | Barcelona

La Boqueria market holds a special place in my memories, even though it's been a while since I last visited. This market is one of the first ‘true’ ones I visited in Europe and has all the elements that make it truly remarkable: a wide variety of food offerings, inviting spaces, aromas, and  authentic local eateries. It's the perfect place to immerse yourself in the flavours of Catalan cuisine and get amazing ingredients for your next dinner party. 



Thailand - Bangkok

Bangkok is one of my ultimate food destinations and not only for its delicious cuisine but also for its incredible markets. Thailand's markets are truly something special, and they offer a glimpse into the heart and soul of the country's fiery culinary scene. During my two visits to the city and country, I had the chance to explore a variety of markets, each offering its own unique charm. From the iconic and famous floating markets to the bustling Chatuchak, Bangkok is a treasure of market experiences.


One market that really stood out to me was Khlong Toei Market. It's a massive fresh food market that I visited during Songkran, Thailand’s New Year celebrations. The atmosphere was bustling and lively, with vendors selling everything from meat and fish to fruits, all in a chaotic yet fascinating setting. It was a memorable experience, made even more special by the fact that my partner and I were among the few tourists there that day. Another favourite of mine is Tor Kor Market, located opposite from Chatuchak. This market boasts an incredible selection of seafood, some of the biggest prawns I’ve ever seen and some other incredible products, as well as food stalls, and more. And it's not just Bangkok - across Thailand, you'll find vibrant night markets too, offering delicious grilled food and a laid-back atmosphere perfect for enjoying unique snacks.


Pictures: Markets of Koh Samui (night), Tor Kor and Khlong Toei

 

There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the history of each country than through their markets. And it's not just about the food – it's about the stories, the culture, and the unforgettable memories that come with each bite.


So next time you find yourself in a new country, visiting a traditional market should be on top of your priorities!

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