Step into Madrid’s historic Mercado de San Miguel, housed in a soaring 1916 Beaux-Arts building, and plop down in the buzzing central café area with a glass of local sparkling wine in hand to wash down a dozen fines de Claire oysters and fresh caviar. Watch as this neighborhood food mecca spins to life all around you, with its 33 stalls bursting with Andalusian olives and barrels of sweet sherry.
Marchés, mercados, bazaars—food markets around the globe may go by different names and take many forms, but they’re not just a place to grope produce and barter for spices. They’re also great places to eat.
Serving food in markets is an ancient practice, of course—quick, affordable, and interactive, it’s been an integral part of Asian, African, and European culture for more than two centuries. And visiting a food market has long been the most authentic way to experience a destination—after all, what better way to get the pulse of a city than to see its merchants in action.
But with so much delicious cuisine, why not linger and try a local specialty? Somehow food just seems to taste better snagged from a kiosk or roving cart and eaten on a bench surrounded by a riot of produce.
For a real day-in-the-life, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a must-see: with more than 4,000 shops, food stalls feed the army of vendors as well as visitors. Sidle up alongside goldsmiths and rug lords for a succulent doner at the market’s Donerci Sahin Usta, or sample the city’s tastiest kebabs at the stunning Cebeci Han caravansary.
If aisles of organic produce are more your speed, head to San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. It’s the ultimate in clean, bright, and fresh; and with a waterfront location and 80 Bay Area sellers, it’s also a lesson in sustainable agriculture. Line up alongside local chefs to sample organic-masa mole tamales at Primavera Tamales, or snag some lavender-infused chocolate from Recchiuti Confections.
From bustling bazaars to Singapore stalls and Mexican marketplaces, food markets worldwide are becoming destinations unto themselves. Here are our favorites. —Sarah Storms