Updated: Apr 15
We’re big fans of sampling the local cuisine when we travel. One of the best ways to do so is to visit local food markets, which are vibrant, colorful, and full of atmosphere. Food markets are where we savored Stroopwafel in Leiden, the Netherlands, tried silkworms in Chaing Mai, Thailand, sampled marzipan in Palermo, Sicily, and slurped coconut milk in Toronto, Canada.
But there’s more than one benefit of seeking out the local food market. Here are five reasons why you should visit a local food market while traveling.
1. It’s a Convenient Way to be Introduced to a lot of the Local Flavor
Walking through a food market introduces you to a variety of local food packed into one location. You’ll invariably see fish you’re not familiar with, unusual cuts of different animals, and fruits and vegetables you may not recognize. I end up taking a lot of photos.
“Local flavor” is not limited to the food itself. A food market is also an opportunity to glimpse a slice of real life in the place you're visiting, since this is where so many locals shop, often daily, especially outside of the United States. It’s interesting to see the customers interact with the shopkeepers, what items appear most popular, and what the locals prefer to wear.
2. The Food is Usually Great
A food market is by definition a reliable place to taste the food. That fish is live; those artichokes look like they’re straight from the farm. Talk about fresh! There is typically raw food and prepared food (or raw food that will be quickly prepared for you). Get several items and share. If you graze, you can try more things. 😊
3. The Markets Often Offer Entertainment
Food markets, being gathering places, frequently include entertainers. We’ve seen singers, dancers, and other street performers as part of or near food markets. For example, the food market in Phuket, Thailand and the Mercado del la Boqueria in Barcelona feature a variety of entertainers (I particularly like the “living statues” on Las Ramblas).
Then again, the market itself may offer its own unique entertainment. For instance, the fish throwing at Pike Peak Market in Seattle has become one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. We can attest; it’s quite a sight!
4. You Can Save Some Money
Not looking to spend a lot for a meal? The food market is a great way to fill up or grab provisions for a picnic lunch. It's also a good place to purchase gifts to take home (just make sure they’re allowed by customs). We’ve obtained jams, chocolates, nuts, and non-food items for ourselves and friends and family.
5. Food Markets Can Create Special Memories
Sometimes visiting a local food market when traveling can give you a particularly memorable experience or even become a highlight of the trip.
For instance, we arrived in Bangkok in the morning after a grueling 19-hour trip. We were exhausted, but had booked a tour later that day in order to pack as much as possible into our vacation.
To pass the time, we took a walk, and ended up in front of what was clearly a very local food market. No one appeared to speak English. Inside there was a stall manned by an elderly woman selling what appeared to be sticky buns. I do not speak Thai. But hungry, I pointed to a bun, held up one finger, purchased it, and went outside to share it with the family.
It was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted.
So I returned to the stall. The merchant was surprised to see me. I again pointed to a bun and held up one finger.
And she broke into the biggest grin. So did I.
To this day I don’t know exactly what we ate. But I won’t forget that snack. Or that grin. Ever.
I hope our reasons why you should visit a local food market when traveling inspire you to add these destinations to your itinerary. Are there any particular food markets you recommend or any food market stories to share? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Always feel free to reach out to us with any questions or feedback.
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