Scruffy and chaotic or orderly and refined, the world’s street markets offer fresh, local—and often cheap—seasonal produce, alongside a slice of local life.
1. St. Lawrence, Toronto, Canada
This farmers market emporium has operated since 1803, when it cohabited with Toronto’s city hall. Redeveloped between the 1970s and 1990s after long neglect, the area’s mix of homes and businesses showcases urban regeneration. More than 120 retailers dispense everything from seafood to coffee.
Planning: The market is in Toronto’s old town; Saturday is market day.
2. Union Square Greenmarket, New York City
Once a Manhattan focal point, by the 1970s Union Square had become a junkie hangout. Barry Benepe founded a farmers market in 1976, aiding struggling Hudson Valley farmers and reintroducing New Yorkers to seasonal food in one stroke. The market’s variety in this now revitalized area bewilders many supermarket shoppers.
Planning: Flanking East 17th Street and Broadway, the market is open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, year-round.
3. Castries Market, St. Lucia
Opened in 1894 and still occupying the original orange-roofed building, this market in St. Lucia’s capital is the island’s largest and loudest. Stock up on island spices (star anise, mace, cinnamon); breadfruit, bananas, and other tropical fruits; condiments like hot-pepper sauce; hot food, including rotis; or the fishermen’s catch.
Planning: Next to Jeremie and Peynier Streets, the market is open daily (except Sundays), but is best on Saturdays.
4. Ver-o-Peso, Belém, Brazil
Noisy and chaotic, yet irresistibly atmospheric, with parallel rows of fishmongers selling odd-looking specimens, this vast riverfront emporium hugs Béllem’s Ver-o-Peso docks, where the boats land their Amazonian catch. Alongside the original neo-Gothic market building, imported from England in 1899, a marquee shelters stalls vending dizzying varieties of fruits and hot food.
Planning: Visit early in the morning when fishermen unload their catch. Belém has a riverboat station and international airport but no railroad.
5. Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile
Under a wrought-iron, art nouveau canopy dating from 1872, this animated fish market groans with an extraordinary shoal of sea creatures, from barnacles to giant squid, many unlabeled, untranslatable, or unknown outside Chile. Marvel at the fishmongers’ speed and skill. If the thought of identifying and preparing the fish is too much, onsite restaurants offer local dishes like paila marina (Chilean bouillabaisse).
Planning: The market is two blocks north of Santo Domingo church. Beware scalpers and slippery surfaces.
6. Kreta Ayer Wet Market, Singapore
Like most things Singaporean, this Chinatown market is spotlessly clean, its floor hosed down regularly for hygiene, hence the term “wet market.” But in variety the food is anything but sterile: offerings range from turtles, frogs, eels, and snakes (often still alive) to medicinal dried animal parts. The upstairs food center offers local breakfast fare, like spicy noodle soup.
Planning: Visit around 6 a.m. to beat the crowds. The market closes around 1 p.m.
7. Kauppatori, Helsinki, Finland
For a taste of the Arctic, hit this fiesta of traditional Finnish fare. Star buys include moose, reindeer, and bear salami; chocolate infused with salted licorice; and salmon and herring delicacies.
Planning: The open-air market is situated on Helsinki’s South Harbor.
8. La Vucciria, Palermo, Italy
In a gritty part of Palermo, and reflecting Sicily’s heady ethnic brew, the boisterous atmosphere of La Vucciria is more Middle Eastern than European. Musicians bang drums and sing Arabian-infused ballads; the smell of barbecued sausages and kebabs permeates the air. The name comes from the French boucherie(butchers market) but expect everything from fish to fruits.
Planning: La Vucciria is off Piazza San Domenico. Take a local guide.
9. Cours Saleya, Nice, France
This pretty flower-and-food market is so crowded that fellow shoppers jostle you as you shop. Among the essentials of Niçois cooking are indelicate animal parts like lambs’ testicles, and pigs’ ears and heads, alongside more internationally acceptable ingredients. Lined with cafés and seafood restaurants, the market has a different atmosphere on summer nights, when it becomes a covered eating area.
Planning: Cours Saleya lies between the sea and the old town and runs Tuesday to Sunday, mornings only.
10. Borough Market, London, England
London’s oldest food market—here for more than 250 years—is wholesale most of the week, but Thursdays through Saturdays it delights foodies with its cornucopia of fine foods from independent suppliers throughout the U.K. and beyond, from the choicest olive oils and cheeses to ostrich burgers and wild boar sausages.
Planning: In good weather, take a picnic into the gardens of Southwark Cathedral, next to the market.
This feature originally appeared in National Geographic.
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