Food markets are a prime — and tasty — way to discover a new culture. (Photo: Getty Images)
Take it from Hemingway: if you truly want to experience a destination, there’s no more authentic place to start than in the life-affirming bustle of its food markets.
Here, you’ll find not only every kind of person—the salty fisherman bringing in today’s catch, the mama buying for her family, the suited business exec out to lunch—but also the best of everything, from fresh-picked produce to farm-raised meats to hand-made breads.
At these 8 best food markets around the world, the real pleasure lies in pulling up a chair and sampling the local delicacies.
La Boqueria, Barcelona
Hailed by many as the best market in the world, Barcelona’s La Boqueria is a must-visit for any true food connoisseur. To get there, avoid the grand iron entrance on touristy Las Ramblas and navigate the narrow side streets of the atmospheric Barri Gòtic.
Arrive in the morning to beat the crowds for first pick of a riot of colorful fruits and vegetables (skip the pricey fresh-squeezed juices) as well as line-caught fish and cured meats including highly prized sliced jamón ibérico. The 1840 building also houses a vast array of casual restaurants with bar seating for those intent on lingering.
What to Eat: No trip to La Boqueria would be complete without a stop at Bar Pinotxo, where marinated chickpeas with botifarra sausage are served alongside the restaurant’s signature sparkling wine. If you can’t snag one of the stall’s 14 seats, the fried eggs with baby squid at El Quim is a worthy alternative.
Torvehallerne Market, Copenhagen
A short walk over the canal from City Center, Nørrebro is a multicultural neighborhood home to Copenhagen’s most diverse food hall—and one of the world’s best food markets. At Torvehallerne Market, two greenhouse-like buildings house 60 vendors selling everything from sushi to tapas as well as local specialties like risengrød (traditional Danish rice porridge). An outdoor courtyard dotted with picnic tables fills up during the warmer months.
What to Eat: Don’t miss the tacos al pastor on Oaxacan corn tortillas at Hija de Sanchez, former Noma pastry chef Rosio Sanchez’s open-air stand just outside the market. For something lighter, opt for a classic open-faced herring sandwich at Hallernes Smørrebrød.
Borough Market, London
London’s oldest market (it dates back more than 1,000 years) continues to be a draw for city denizens and tourists alike. That’s because more than 70 organic farmers and artisanal purveyors from nearby and abroad flock there on the weekends, making it a nexus of hyper-local and seasonal cuisine.
It’s also the place to stock up on unexpected ethnic food such as Ethiopian spices, Balkan pastries, or Spanish olive oils.
Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio, Rome
The Eternal City’s historic Mercato di Testaccio got a new lease on 21st-century life when it relocated from Piazza Testaccio to a light-filled modern building powered primarily by solar energy.
Inside, the vibe is an energetic mix of contemporary and antiquarian pleasures: among the 103 purveyors are stalls specializing in fresh produce and hand-made pasta, as well as a bookseller and a home goods store. And, while busy, the market is far less touristy than Piazza Navona’s beloved Campo de’ Fiore.
What to Eat: At diminutive Sicilian pasticceria Dess’Art, the homemade cannoli are filled to order; pair one with a bracing espresso, then continue through the stalls until you find the hand-pulled tagliatelle at Le Mani in Pasta.
Or Tor Kor Market, Bangkok
A short stroll from the famed bric-a-brac stalls of Bangkok’s Chatuchak market, Or Tor Kor is a feast for the senses.
One of Bangkok’s oldest (and cleanest) food markets, Or Tor Kor features immaculate fruits and vegetables in every color of the rainbow—think rows of picture-perfect mangosteens, mangoes, and pungent durian—artfully arranged alongside freshly prepared curries, sun-dried fish, and stir-fried noodles.
What to Eat: Sample your way through a selection of Thai nam prik chili sauces. The green-papaya salad with fermented fish sauce at the rear of the market is also not to be missed—just be wary of the spice.
La Merced, Mexico City
For a history lesson in traditional Mexican cuisine, look no further than La Merced. The 150-year-old market—the capital’s largest—houses a maze-like array of some 3,000 stalls packed to the rafters with every ingredient imaginable, from nopales (cactus) and queso fresco to moles and grasshoppers and huitlacoche (corn fungus)—oh my.
Best to head toward Pancita Alley, at the center of the space, where chefs prepare the iconic red soup made with chiles and cow stomach.
What to Eat: Many of the best vendors are unnamed, adding more mystery to the madness. The good news is you can’t go wrong with the steak tacos, the pork posole, or the huaraches (masa cakes).
Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech
The Red City is a labyrinthine wonderland of Moorish architecture ripe for exploring.
Wind your way through Marrakech’s narrow alleys and you’ll be rewarded in the souks of Jemaa el Fna, the crowded heart of the medina, where snake charmers and ostrich-egg-hawking herbalists share space with spice vendors and low-key epicures in search of their next meal.
Plan to visit at sunset, when Berber musicians provide a transporting soundtrack.
What to Eat: Don’t leave without trying a generous helping of méchoui, pit-roasted lamb topped with salt and cumin, or the fresh-brewed mint tea.
Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, San Francisco
San Francisco’s waterfront Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market may just be the best looking of the bunch. Under the restored 1898 arches of an iconic Embarcadero transit hub, you’ll find stands selling all manner of artisanal produce (wild nettles, heirloom tomatoes, maitake mushrooms), plus some of the city’s favorite restaurant vendors.
Looking for something special for someone back home? Stylish Bram clay pots should do the trick.
What to Eat: There’s something for everyone here, including fresh-shucked bivalves from Instagram darling Hog Island Oyster Co., decadent 1950s-style burgers from Gott’s Roadside, and otherworldly spring rolls at Vietnamese stalwart The Slanted Door.
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Where to Stay:
- Courtyard San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf
- San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf
- JW Marriott Hotel Mexico City
- Courtyard Mexico City Revolucion
- St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London
- London Marriott Hotel Marble Arch
- Cotton House Hotel, Autograph Collection
- AC Hotel Barcelona Forum
- JW Marriott Hotel Bangkok
- Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park