Who doesn’t love street markets? It doesn’t matter where you travel, you’re almost guaranteed to stumble upon one. They’re filled with colorful trinkets, local food, and ultimately a loud and abrasive salesperson trying to sell you something overpriced. What’s amazing to me though, is anywhere you visit--Taiwan, Italy, Israel, Madagascar, Spain, Costa Rica--they’ve all got them, and they’re all vastly different. I believe that some of the most accurate representations of daily life in a foreign country can be observed in the street markets. Just make sure to come early in the day, because that’s when the real action takes place.
You’ve probably heard of some of the famous ones: La Boqueria in Barcelona, The Shook in Jerusalem, Le Mercerie in Venice, and The Ferry Building in San Francisco. Each of which hold interesting trinkets, foods and local representation, and yet remain as different from one another as the cultures they represent. Even the smaller markets, a night market in Taiwan, produce stands in France and Italy, and the unnamed markets in hundreds of cities, possess a spirit that is unlike any other monument or landmark you may visit.
I’ve visited quite a few street markets in my travels and have some personal favorites. This list is nowhere close to finished, and will continue to evolve over time, but I’d like to take you on a trip through some of the street markets of the world!
FERRY PLAZA SUNDAY MARKET - SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA
Primarily a spot for tourists to glimpse some of the most famous elements of the San Francisco food scene--think: Sourdough Bread, Organic Foods, Coffee, Ice Cream--this market is a hit year-round. Saturday's are the “big” day. There are quite a few stands outside the ferry building boasting local produce, photography and trinkets. However, on the weekdays the Ferry Building is still open to the public and houses some of the authentic SF restaurants. Locals who work in the Financial District frequently pop inside to grab a steamed pork bun, coffee, or fresh seafood during their lunch break!
THE SHOOK - JERUSALEM, ISRAEL
Locals from Jerusalem come to the Shook almost daily to pick up local produce. You’ll find booths selling freshly made Challah bread, Halvah, Rugelach and all sorts of local fruits and vegetables. Pomegranates are also very popular in Israel! You’ll also see lots of evidence of Jewish life, like haggling in Hebrew, constant yarmulke (kippas) wearing (men only), the curls of the Orthodox Jewish men (Payot), and if you’re lucky you may witness one of the followers of Judaism performing a spontaneous Bar Mitzvah. Being the largest market in the Holy City, this place is frequented by locals and tourists alike. While I was here, a friend recommended we check out a restaurant called Azura. It was some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life! The Israeli use of spices is truly unique and I don’t think I’ve ever been so full...
THE NIGHT MARKET - KEELUNG, TAIWAN
Taiwan may not be on the forefront of your mind when you think Street Market, but let me tell you, they have some killer ones. One of my favorites on this small island is the Keelung night market. By day, Keelung is very similar to any other small Asian city you might stumble upon. At night though, the streets flip and become one of the most exciting hubs of food and entertainment in all of Taiwan. You can wander through the night market playing street games where you can win fish, shoot water against a bullseye, see live music, and have amazing food cooked right before your eyes. I went with a group of chef’s to this street market and man-oh-man the food was amazing. Half of the time I didn’t know what I was consuming, but when it tastes that good it doesn’t matter. Be on the lookout for frogs, there are several stands that sell and cook frogs that you can pick from a container--definitely wasn’t my favorite part of the experience, but is considered a delicacy in Taiwan.
LA BOQUERIA - BARCELONA, SPAIN
The largest market in Barcelona, La Boqueria sits just off the main thoroughfare Las Ramblas. Home to some of the most colorful fruits, vegetables, meats and sweets this street market doesn’t disappoint. In typical European style the best time to see the locals hunting for fresh produce is early in the morning. Park yourself near the meat stands and listen Spanish haggling. Or snag yourself a seat at one of the smaller cafes on the outer edge and watch the frenzy within. Watch out though, the vendors can spot a tourist a mile away and have the unfortunate habit of not returning all your change after you’ve purchased something.
NOSY BE MARKET - ANTSIRANANA, MADAGASCAR
One of the largest markets in the North of Madagascar, Nosy Be is far different from any European market you may visit. The premise is the same, but the booths and sellers themselves are entirely different. The first point of difference you’ll notice upon walking in is the smell. In a country that doesn’t widely have access to electricity the meat for sale is not refrigerated. However, it is some of the freshest meat around being procured either early that day or right before your very eyes. The second difference is distribution of the food products. There are no booths, just long tables with piles of produce. Most of the produce is held in recycled containers or in sacks. Bear in mind that this is typically a locals-only market, with only the occasional tourist. With that being said, you will see all walks of life while in and around the market, and most folks are very friendly and happy to see new faces!
OTHER NOTABLE MENTIONS
Houseware Market - Casablanca, Morocco
Mangalda Market - South Mumbai, India