EUROPE’S BEST FOOD MARKETS
To really understand any country, you must head to at least one of its food markets!
V eteran travellers always say, ‘Go to the local market to understand the local food, crafts and culture’. I totally agree. Whenever I visit Europe, I make it a point to see where the food I eat comes from, and, with a little bit of luck, learn to cook it too.
Of course, it’s also frustrating. All that lovely produce, and no kitchen of my own to fill with it. But window-shopping gets me by. So does testing and tasting. And now, having visited several local markets around Europe, I know what it must be like to live in these cities.
MOTHER OF ALL MARKETS
Rungis @ Paris, France When a gourmand friend suggests that I expand my food horizon, I plan a trip to Rungis on the outskirts of the city, where I intend to browse the world’s biggest wholesale market for fresh produce.
You have to visit Rungis with an authorised guide, unless you are a listed buyer or know one. When I arrive with Carole, my guide from La Route des Gourmets, at 5am, the market is well underway; in fact the stalls at the Fish Pavilion are almost ready to close. I visit it anyway, and spend most of my time trying to get out of the way of the workers.
Next, we head to the Tripe or Offal Pavilion, where I am bizarrely riveted by the animal body parts on display, and then to the Meat Pavilion, where you find everything from poultry to meat, from tiny animals to huge ones.
Of course, the Cheese Pavilion that comes next is the one I’m most attracted to, with its wheels of Gruyère and Comté. Then it’s dairy, then the fruit and vegetables, and then flowers, making the morning prettier as we walk. In fact, it’s so gorgeous that I completely forget that I am hungry and have been promised breakfast, which is slightly odd since I am starving.
Pretty is not the reason for the existence of this market: this is not a place meant to attract tourists. It’s a real functioning wholesale market for the hotels and restaurants of Paris, and overall, the look is more pristine than pretty.
Still, Rungis is an impressive place: a town in itself, every pavilion complete with street signs. So, when I eventually dig into breakfast (farm fresh eggs and multigrain bread), my mood is one of awe. Reservations: www.rungisinternational.com/ en/visitors/organise-your-visit FOODIE’S PILGRIMAGE La Boqueria @ Barcelona, Spain The best way to enjoy the Mercat de Sant Joseph de la Boqueria on Las Ramblas, the emblematic covered market that has been around since the 1200s, is with breakfast at one of the restaurants and bars.
The food is intriguingly simple and delicious. I begin with the crusty bread rubbed with raw tomato, drizzled with olive oil and topped with thin slices of ham and some tortilla de patatas, and pair it with a local wine. Next is a Spanish omelette, light, fluffy and stuffed with potatoes, an unpredicted vein of saline, and a hit of something fragrant.
Of course, I try the tapas too. Popular culture is popular for a reason, and the tapas is amazing!
As I stroll along the stalls, I am impressed by the produce which runs the gamut from the famed Jamon Ibérico to cheeses, Spanish olives, chocolates, juices, nuts, cured meat, poultry, seafood and more. The Ibérico ham melts in my mouth; it has a mild flavour, and is near perfect. Strolling around the market, I realise that vendors at the back are less expensive than the ones in front, so clearly it’s best to hunt for the best deals, knowing that the best stalls will have the longest queues.
The main thing to know about this market is that it’s meant for tourists by and large. So, the restaurants and bars could be a wee bit more expensive. You can taste and buy, or not, depending on the depth of your ethics and pocket. To know more, log on to: www.boqueria. barcelona/home OUT OF THE ORDINARY Torvehallerne @ Copenhagen, Denmark A ‘rickshaw’ to Copenhagen’s biggest food market located beside the Nørreport Station, takes us to two beautiful glass and steel market halls facing each other on opposite sides of a square, packed with more than 80 merchants selling the kind of produce that you wouldn’t find just anywhere: from organic sausage, and artisanal honey to Danish pastries, rhubarb juice and other bounty.
I begin by biting into a salted caramel macaron picked up from a stall called ‘Sweet Valentine’. It bursts with flavours and the
Rungis is a wholesale market for the hotels and restaurants of Paris and it looks more pristine than pretty
cream gan ache cen tre is divin e. Wan derin g about, I fight clichés as I observe stun n in g produce, in gredien ts an d food con cepts.
The sun is worth celebratin g so I lun ch al fresco, eatin g a wrap made of egg white in stead of dough bread from the ‘Palaeo’ stall. Palaeo food is food in spired by the diets of an cien t human s, an d the men u in cludes healthy food an d organ ic freshly-squeezed juices. The speciality here is the Ston e Age ‘Palaeo Bread’ made of mixed n uts an d seeds.
Of course, I also dig in to a thin crust pizza from Gorm’s an d later, a duck con fit san dwich from Ma Poule! Waitin g for my order, I can see the duck crispin g in a hot pan just behin d the coun ter, an d though this place is famous for its Fren ch delicacies, I reckon I could come back for that san dwich alon e!
Naturally, I also have to try the elegan tly decorated open faced sourdough-based rye bread san dwiches called
smørrebrød, smeared with velvety butter an d buried un der toppin gs of on e’s choice. Even though I am hopelessly full, I stop at Hallern es for a smørrebrød topped with curried herrin g, an d on e with roast belly of pork with red cabbage toppin g. Both are absolutely divin e! An d just when I thin k I am fully fed up, I spot Café Rosa. Dessert calls, an d I have n o regrets. This is on e of the best ban an a cakes I have ever eaten !
To k n ow more, log on to www.visitcopen hagen.com/copen hagen / gastron omy/torvehallern e OTHer NOTeWOrTHY FOOD M arKeTS Les Halles @ Lyon, France I am in love with this food san ctuary associated with the legen dary chef Paul Bocuse, father of n ouvelle cuisin e. The over 60 stan ds retailin g in n umerable gourmet delights leave me impressed. I also take a cook in g lesson here, an d later en joy a meal of local produce with delicious Fren ch win e. Cours Saleya @ Nice, France This quain t little market run n in g parallel to the sea in the heart of the old town , packed with history an d culin ary in spiration , is worth an en tire morn in g an d is best discovered on foot. Chez Theresa’s socca, a flatbread made of chick pea flour, olive oil, water, an d salt soon becomes my favourite sn ack in Nice. Mercado Central @ Valencia, Spain The market has an extern al area of over 8,000 square metres with over 1,000 sellin g posts, an d is labelled as Europe’s largest covered market. I fin d a paella pan an d brin g it home. The remark able domed ceilin g leaves me awe-in spired; the n atural light comin g through the high coloured win dow pan els makes the produce look even more en chan tin g.
CHERRY-PICKED The socca is a must try in Nice while (inset) Rungis on the outskirts of Paris is the world’s biggest wholesale market for fresh produce
Torvehallerne offers everything from artisanal honey to Danish pastries, rhubarb juice and other bounty TASTY TREATS
Torvehallerne in Copenhagen, Denmark, comprises two beautiful glass and steel market halls facing each other on opposite sides of a square DANISH DELIGHTS
BEST OF BARCELONA La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain, is the emblematic covered market that has been around since the 1200s
the chill thrill Torvehallern e is located beside the Nørreport Station
retail rendezvous Some of the vibran t stalls at La Boqueria in Barcelon a, Spain
spoilt For choice Mercado Cen tral in Valen cia, Spain , is labelled as Europe’s largest covered mark et