World's Top Food Markets
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
Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, San Francisco
With an unbeatable waterfront location, this is much more than a petting zoo for baby carrots and heirloom tomatoes. It’s also a lesson in sustainable agriculture, drawing some 80 Bay Area purveyors on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Even on non-farmers’ market days, the Ferry Building itself is chockablock with fabulous edibles, from briny Tomales Bay oysters from Hog Island to lavender-flavored chocolates from Recchiuti Confections.
Best Bites: Chef Daniel Patterson’s Il Cane Rosso (lunch for two $25) has terrific fried-egg breakfast sandwiches and note-perfect salads. An outpost of Blue Bottle Coffee Co. (coffee for two $6) delivers exotic micro-roasts and ethereal Belgian waffles. On Saturdays, local chefs queue up at Primavera Tamales (snacks for two $18) for organic-masa mole tamales doused with roasted-tomato salsa. —Anya von Bremzen
Borough Market, London
Crammed with stalls, pubs, shops, and small restaurants, Borough Market is London’s grazing central. Come early on Thursday or Friday and avoid the Saturday crush.
Best Bites: At the outdoor grill operated by Brindisa (sandwiches for two $10.50), the smoky chorizo-and-arugula sandwiches on crusty ciabatta rolls are well worth the wait. Or perhaps you’d rather indulge in seared scallops on a bacony bean-sprout stir-fry from Shellseekers (scallops for two $14), whose owner dives for the scallops himself. For dessert, there’s rich St. Lucian chocolate from newcomer Rabot Estate (dessert for two $8). —Anya von Bremzen
Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid
Housed in a 1916 Beaux-Arts building, San Miguel market stood abandoned for years—until a renovation in 2009 gave it a new lease on life. Now it’s a lively neighborhood food destination with 33 shopping and dining stalls, plus a buzzing central café area.
Best Bites: Sherries drawn straight from barrels are accompanied by Andalusian olives and nuts roasted in a wood-burning oven at El Yantar del Ayer (drinks and snacks for two $7). Pinkleton & Wine (drinks for two $8) offers some two dozen sparkling wines by the glass—just right with the fines de claire oysters from bivalve and caviar purveyor Daniel Sorlut (#67; from $1.20 per oyster). —Anya von Bremzen
Marché des Enfants Rouges, Paris
Besides trading in colorful produce and lusty charcuterie, this petite marché in the Marais (one of the oldest in Paris) is the spot for an affordable meal assembled from the variety of ethnic prepared-food stands.
Best Bites: La Rôtisserie Enfants Rouges (lunch for two $24) serves up crisp-skinned rotisserie Bresse chicken with potatoes and a glass of vin rouge, while Le Traiteur Marocain (lunch for two $25) is a must for its bracing spiced lamb-and-prune tagine and fluffy couscous royale. —Anya von Bremzen
Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarşi), Istanbul
With more than 4,000 shops spread out over 65 covered streets, Istanbul’s 15th-century bazaar is the place to stock up on kilims and 24-karat bangles. Naturally, the army of vendors needs to be fed, which explains the market’s delicious food finds.
Best Bites: Goldsmiths, rug lords, and copperware kings pack into the homey Subaşi (lunch for two $30) for fortifying white beans in tomato sauce and chicken stuffed with rice. To sample the ultimate meat wrap, grab a succulent döner at Dönerci Şahin Usta (lunch for two $12), near the Nuruosmaniye Gate. At the picturesque Cebeci Han caravansary, Kara Mehmet Kebap Salonu (kebabs for two $12) serves the city’s tastiest kebabs. —Anya von Bremzen
Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City
Three dozen kinds of dried chiles and mole pastes? Pungent Oaxacan cheese, stacks of nopals, and the mingled scents of guavas and epazote? It’s all here at the gigantic Merced, which spans several city blocks and has more than 3,000 vendors from across Mexico.
Best Bites: Abraham (snacks for two $4) trades in delicious huaraches (griddled masa cakes) with toppings such as chorizo and carne asada. Migas Arnulfo (snacks for two $4) is wildly popular for its sopa de migas, a restorative bread soup. —Anya von Bremzen
Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne
Open since 1878, “Queen Vic” is an over-1,000-stall melting pot of Southeast Asian greens, Italian cheeses, kangaroo salami, and Tasmanian scallops. A two-hour market tour (qvm.com.au; tours from $30) includes chats with vendors and generous food samplings.
Best Bites: Perk up with an aromatic espresso at Coffea (coffee for two $6). Then try the bratwurst sandwich (spicy or mild) offered with five kinds of mustard at the beloved Bratwurst Shop (sandwiches from $6). Don’t miss the flaky multilayered börek filled with everything from spiced lamb to leeks at the Mezze Table (snacks for two $6). Fresh-squeezed passion-fruit juice from Market Juice (juices for two $3) is a perfect palate cleanser. —Anya von Bremzen
Tiong Bahru Market, Singapore
Sure you’ll find all the Asian market essentials at this circular 1950’s building, but the real reason to visit is the second-floor hawker center with more than 80 mouthwatering stalls.
Best Bites: Char siu at the Roasted Pig Specialist (snacks for two $3) is a must. Follow with soft springy steamed rice cakes topped with fried preserved radish at the iconic Jian Bo Shui Kueh (#02-05; snacks for two $1.50). Still hungry? A plate of slippery rice noodles loaded with Chinese sausage, eggs, and fish-cake nuggets at Fried Kway Teow (snacks for two $4) should do the trick. —Anya von Bremzen
Mercado Municipal Paulistano, São Paulo, Brazil
Tangy olives, linguica sausages, and salt cod (legacies of Portuguese rule) sit cheek by jowl with native tropical fruit and Amazonian chiles at this 1930’s market known for its cathedral-worthy stained-glass dioramas.
Best Bites: Eating a piled-sky-high mortadella sandwich is a market ritual; for the definitive version, try the crowded upstairs Hocca Bar (lunch for two $14), also known for its flaky pastel de bacalhau (salt-cod pastries). At Ki Peixe (oysters for two $14), big, flat oysters are shucked to order for patrons while they wait for their fish to be cleaned. The chocolaty açai-berry shake is a standout at Banana Juice (juices from $2). —Anya von Bremzen
La Vucciria, Palermo, Italy
Markets don’t get more pungent and raucous than Palermo’s labyrinth of narrow passageways piled with produce. Feisty matrons haggle with vendors in thick Sicilian dialects for the best pomegranates or tangy Pantelleria capers.
Best Bites: Pane c’a meusa, the unexpectedly tasty spleen sandwich sold at almost every stall, is a Vucciria initiation rite, but the squeamish can opt for addictive panelle, puffy chickpea fritters. For a sit-down lunch, snag a balcony seat at the very un-Chinese Shanghai Trattoria (lunch for two $36), known for its eggplant caponata, pasta con le sarde, and a raffish setting straight out of a mafia flick. —Anya von Bremzen