European Market Culture
Though it sounds trite, one of the best things about travel is how it opens my eyes to local cultures. There’s nothing better than wondering what life is like in a foreign country, traveling there, and then actually witnessing firsthand just how locals go about their day-to-day lives. Doing so forces me to reexamine our own culture and think about our own customs and daily rituals here in the U.S. and even locally in L.A.
One aspect of European culture that I really admire is its daily market culture. During our first morning in Paris, Jave and I headed to our local Marché Franprix to stock up the fridge and pantry in our apartment for ourselves and my parents for the week. It goes without saying that we looked like such “Americans” while loading our basket with breakfast fare, drinks, and snacks. Our register clerk had an incredulous look on her face as she rang up item after item and as our Parisian neighbors patiently waited in line behind us with only a few items in hand.
As Jave and I headed back to our apartment that morning, we talked about European market culture and about the fact that many Europeans only buy a few groceries and produce at a time each day. In America, we’re all about stocking up in an effort to save time, but by and large, European culture lends itself to only buying what you intend to cook and eat for the day.
Another thing I noticed about European markets (at least the outdoor markets) is that there weren’t any ads promoting non-fat, low carb, or gluten-free products. Now don’t get me wrong – I understand that some people suffer from celiac disease and have a legitimate need to eat gluten-free, but in many ways, I think that gluten-free products are a trend, especially here in the United States. So in Europe, it was rather refreshing that a pastry was simply a pastry, a baguette was just a baguette, and it seemed to be common knowledge that all of the produce was organic. Indeed, food was just food, and it was all incredibly delicious. Imagine that?
In this post, I’ve highlighted three of my favorite markets that we had the pleasure of experiencing during our trip to Europe.
Les Halles – AvignonSquare Pie Hours: open daily except Mondays, 6am-1:30pm (during the week), 6am-2pm (weekends) Website
Given the fact that it’s located in Square Pie in the heart of the walled city, and given the fact that there’s a Vertical Garden growing on its façade, a visit to Les Halles simply can’t be missed. Construction of this market was completed in 1899, and today, the forty merchants who’ve set up shop at Les Halles sell everything from prepared dishes, poultry, cheese, flowers, and much more.
Although we ventured into this market on a Saturday as they were shutting down shop, the friendly merchants there didn’t turn us away. My mom, who was starving at the time, was able to buy a few prepared dishes as Jave checked out the poultry at a butcher’s stall. When one of the butchers saw me taking pictures, he grabbed a freshly-plucked rooster and broke out a rendition of the “The Star Spangled Banner.” He then let Jave pose with the rooster as he grabbed and started waving a French flag while singing the French national anthem. What a character!
Great Market Hall – BudapestVámház körút 1-3 Hours: Mon. 6am-5pm, Tues.-Fri. 6am-6pm, Sat. 6am-3pm, closed Sunday Website
Also known as Central Market, Budapest’s largest and oldest indoor market was designed and built by Samu Pecz in the late 1890s. The huge market space is reminiscent of the inside of a train station and is conveniently located in Pest at the end of Váci utca just across from the hotel we stayed at. Although Great Market Hall is a one-stop shop for everything from fresh produce and paprika to pálinka and Hungarian souvenirs, we were there to try the lángos, a deep-fried delight that can be prepared sweet or savory (more about lángos in a separate post). There are several other eateries to choose from on the second floor of the market.
Although we didn’t get to attend any of the events regularly held at the market, it’s worth noting that it offers gastronomical events and tourism days throughout the year. Check the market’s website for details.
Torvehallerne – CopenhagenFrederiksborggade 21, 1360 København K Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10am-7pm, Fri. 10am-8pm, Sat. 10am-6pm, Sun. 11am-5pm Website
I saved my favorite market for last. Why is it my favorite? Well for starters, it’s in Copenhagen, one of my new favorite cities in the world. Also, the quality of the food sold at this market is supreme as the presentation of the produce, seafood, and everything else on offer makes it utterly tempting based on looks alone. Just as with everything else in Copenhagen, the market is very clean and the booths are neat and orderly. Moreover, there are all sorts of enticing aromas wafting through the halls of this market: Danishes beckon to be devoured, meats cooking on the fire induce extreme mouthwatering, and the nostalgic scent of freshly brewing coffee epitomizes coziness and comfort.
With more than 60 stalls and 60,000 visitors a week, Torvehallerne is the largest food market in the city. The market even offers guided tours where you can learn about its architecture, history, and of course the food.