I’ve written about some of the European markets in the past, but there are so many great ones, I decided to do a whole post just about them. There are markets for vegetables – similar to the farmers markets we are familiar with here – but markets in Europe sell much more than produce. Here are my favorites:
In Amsterdam there are over 20 markets – some open daily, others a few days a week. Three major outdoor markets that I find the most interesting are the Bloemenmarkt, the Albert Cuypmarkt and Waterlooplein.
The Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating market, finding its home on the Singel Canel. Houseboats full of flowers line the edges of the canal – you can find seeds, bulbs and fresh flowers. Many of the seeds and bulbs are certified for export, so you can bring home a piece of the Netherlands.
The Albert Cuypmarkt sells anything and everything out of its more than 300 stalls. Located on Albert Cuypstraat, the market has been in existence for over 100 years. There are booths with produce, clothing items, and fabric. I picked up a suitcase here several years ago.
Waterlooplein is a flea market – the market where haggling is allowed. Over 300 vendors sell new and used clothing, junk and a few antiques. It is a great place for people watching.
Munich’s Victualien Markt started as a farmer’s market. Since it opened over 200 years ago, it has grown to over 140 stalls and now includes breads, meat, poultry, cheese and flowers. Wine and juice are also sold, making it a perfect place to pick up the ingredients for a picnic.
If you’d rather just eat at the market, stop at one of the food stands for some bratwurst or currywurst. The best place to eat though, may arguably be the Biergarten in the center of the market. With seating for 1000 people, this outdoor restaurant offers full meals of roast pork with potato dumplings and sauerkraut or cold plates of local sausage and specialty cheeses. Tables are set up under a grove of chestnut trees offering shade in the summer.
In 1999, I first became aware of the Portobello Road Market through the film Notting Hill, although at the time, I did not know its name. Several years after the film’s release, I purchased my own copy on DVD. In the “extra features” the DVD has information about the market and Will Thacker’s bookstore, including a map of the area. Since I love the film, we made sure to check out the market when we were in London.
Although the produce stalls arrived earlier, the antiques section of Portobello Road Market did not develop until between 1940 and 1950. There are also sections with new merchandise and vintage clothing.
We had fun wandering up and down the winding, hilly street. We didn’t buy anything except lunch, although the selection of antique cameras would have thrilled one of my daughters (she didn’t join us on this trip). Lunch was great! We tried a couple varieties of paella and enjoyed chocolate muffins for dessert.
Florence’s San Lorenzo Market has booth after booth of Italian leather goods lining the streets. There are purses, bags, belts and jackets – plus stalls with shoes and other clothing items. At the heart of the San Lorenzo Market is an indoor market, Mercato Centrale.
Mercato Centrale houses the food market – meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, and wine – food for a picnic to a seven course meal. If you are staying in an apartment, the market will surely temp you to do some of your own cooking. We bought ingredients for a picnic, since we were about to catch a train – train picnics are great!
If we were staying in town a little longer, we would have been tempted to enjoy lunch on the first floor (second floor for us Americans) where there are twelve different restaurants in a food court type set up. You order your food and take it to a table; the servers then come take your drink order – you pay them for the drink.
The Mercato Centrale is located in a building designed by Giuseppe Mengoni. Made primarily of cast iron and glass, it was built in 1874. The glass ceiling allows in the light, giving the market a natural, classic feel.
I find the Fish Market in Venice fascinating! The fish come in from the boats in the early morning (too early for me to know exactly when). By the time I am at the market, the vendors are busy counting and weighing the products for their customers. In the back, two young men are filleting and trimming the fish and shellfish to each buyers specifications.
The market is open to the general public, but I’ve never stayed in a Venice apartment so I haven’t been able to purchase and cook anything from the market. It seems that every restaurant, though, also buys fish at the market and serves their choice for the dinner entrée.
Paris is a city full of markets – some small and some large. Rue Cler, a popular market street, is near the apartment we rented the last couple times we were in Paris. Located in the seventh arrondissement, Rue Cler is a typical Parisian market street.
On the street, you can purchase everything you need for a picnic or meal. There is a poissonnerie, a fromagerie, a boulangerie, and a charcuterie – in addition to a butcher, a wine shop, two produce markets and small grocery store (those French words mean a fish shop, cheese shop, bakery and deli). Similar markets streets exist in other Parisian neighborhoods.
This time while I was in Paris, I went to the Puces de Saint-Ouen, the famous flea market. The flea market is located just outside of the periphery – the highway that circles Paris’ center. As we walked up to the market area, I started to wonder what we were getting into – people were everywhere, with sellers hawking cheap goods that were probably knock-offs or stolen goods.
When we passed the craziness, though, and arrived at the actual market, it was a different story. The aisles were quiet with many booths full of beautiful antiques. The quality seemed exceptional, but I would recommend only buying what you are knowledgeable about. I didn’t buy anything but enjoyed browsing for a couple hours.
Tips for Shopping
As I’ve said, the markets are a great for getting a picnic lunch together. If there is a park nearby, pick up a baguette, some cheese, fruit and a bottle of wine and you have a light lunch. Add some cold cuts or olives, a little more cheese and fruit and you’ll have a feast. (If you don’t have a corkscrew, ask the vintner to open the bottle for you).
If you’ve rented an apartment, make sure you know what utensils and cooking appliances are available before you purchase food to prepare yourself. You don’t need much – a frying pan on a hot plate will easily cook a fish fillet.
If you plan to purchase anything – food or non-food items – at a European Market, try to bring your own bag. The sellers will wrap your meat or cheese in paper or plastic, but they don’t usually provide a bag for it. Bring cash – small booths will not take credit cards.
Shopping at a European market can be a highlight of your trip.