There are so many things I love about travel, but as most of you already know, one of my favorites is food. I love to eat (no matter where I am), and if I can eat food from a different culture, I am a happy woman. Whenever Bob and I travel in different cities around the world, one of our first stops is always a local market. In my opinion, local markets have the best people watching, the most interesting stalls to browse, and, of course, the best food. I feel more like a local when I’m eating in a market, and the food never fails to delight me. Here’s a great example.
Last fall Bob and I spent time in four cities in Mexico; Mexico City, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, and Queretaro. In each, we sought out the local market to browse, people watch and eat delicious food. In many cases, we were the only non locals in the market. Although the prepared food stall workers didn’t speak much (if any) English, and we speak very little Spanish, we were able to communicate via pointing and gesturing as to what we wanted to eat. With little mistake, we received exactly what we wanted. We ate enchiladas verde, chile rellenos, huaraches, tortas, fish tacos, churros, and so much more. We sat with workers on their lunch breaks, kids out from school, families, business people on lunch, and very few tourists. In some cases, we could look at a menu that wasn’t written in English, but did have pictures. In other cases, we just pointed at whatever was being cooked, carved or served up, and said por favor. We used our Google Translate a few times too, hovering Bob’s phone over the Spanish words on a menu, and seeing the English-ish translation.
Another favorite was the Mercado de La Boqueria, a food market just off the famous La Rambla in Barcelona. Bob and I ate at the Kiosko Universal in the Boqueria several times during our week-long stay in this great city. I remember a delicious sautéed mushroom plate, as well as great octopus and french fries too. We watched locals bellied up to the bar and drinking cups of espresso, right next to others drinking small beers. Stopping in a market for a snack or drink appears to be a part of everyday life. If I had a local market with food stalls, I would certainly try to make it a part of my everyday life.
And then there’s Bangkok. Sigh. My completely unscientific survey suggests that Bangkok might have the most food markets of any city. All should be visited with a camera in hand and an empty stomach in tow. It felt like there was a food market on every corner in Bangkok, whether we were in the Chinatown district, on the river, or at larger markets where everything from kitchen appliances to shoes and clothing is sold alongside terrific food stalls. We tried hard to pace ourselves in Bangkok. We’d eat a little snack – or a big snack – then walk around a market or neighborhood trying to make room in our stomachs. Then we’d find another delecatible food stall and eat another little or big snack. This included everything from whole fish cooked over an open fire inside banana leaves to barbecued ribs. And everything in between. One day we took a break from our market meals and ventured down a different aisle where we ended up getting 30-minute long foot and leg massages. My idea was the food could travel from our stomachs, and be spread via massage all the way down to our toes, making room for more food. I really am a scientist at heart.
I also have deliciously fond memories of paella from a busy market vendor in the Dordogne region of France, Iberian ham and mozzarella on skewers at the 100 year old Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, fresh pineapple on a stick from a floating market on the Mekong River in Vietnam, and barbecued chicken at a beach market in Caye Caulker, Belize. If you wonder whether my travel memories are based strictly on the dining we’ve done in markets, you wouldn’t be far from wrong. The only time this makes me sad is when I’m writing this story in my cold office in Ashland, Oregon, while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread. Not, mind you, a bad lunch, but not really in the same category. Thankfully, Bob and I are on our way to France at the beginning of February, where we’ll be sure to seek our more food market stalls to enjoy.