Favorite Food Markets: Jerusalem, New York, Paris, Tokyo
To my mind, the word exotic was invented for the Middle East and its grand bazaars, consummate merchants, and sensuous honeyed sweets (with names— "ladies' thighs," "lovers' navels"— that hark back to the good old harem days). Hone your bargaining skills as you shop for heady saffron, cumin, and cardamom in the Souk al-Attarin, yards of silky Egyptian cotton, sunny brass utensils, and jellied candy as brilliant as stained glass. For snacking, there are tasty pita sandwiches of tamia, an Egyptian falafel, and flaky fateer, a sort of pizza with a choice of toppings. At the intersection of Sharia al-Muizz and Sharia al-Muski; Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
I consider China one big food fair, with more dazzlement per dumpling than any other place in the world. Almost anything said about this enticing market also applies to the Qinping in Guangdong, the Tiantan in Beijing, the QuFu in Shandong province, and the dramatic night market in Xi'an. Except that this one, being in Sichuan province, abounds in rainbows of incendiary chilies, whole or powdered, dried or fresh. Look also for awesome displays of ancient pharmaceuticals— dried insects and snake skins, whole desiccated frogs, turtles— and all sorts of animals sold live in cages. Renew yourself with a bowl of long wheat noodles in pungent meat sauce or in soups blushed with chili paste. At the intersection of Yanshikou St. and Shengli West St.; open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Although Bali's main market, Pasar Badung, is housed in a comfortable multi-story building, this outdoor neighbor captures the languid spirit of the island. Along with recognizable tropical fruits and vegetables and stands of sugarcane, you'll find the spiky durian, a melon with the aroma of rotten Camembert and burned cauliflower— a smell beloved by devotees. Better to succumb to the tantalizing scent of grilled chicken saté in peanut-chili sauce. Don't miss the elegant little constructions of food offerings to local gods. Behind the Kumbasari Market on Gunung Kawi St.; open daily 6 a.m.-8 p.m.
Arab Market, Old City
Enter the Old City by the Damascus Gate, and you are in a world of winding alleys, of sun and shadows. Vendors line up along the Via Dolorosa, where pilgrims walk the Stations of the Cross; the contrast is ironic, what with the deadly sins of greed and gluttony being played out in the market. Browse for baklava, pistachio-and-rosewater candies, and sublime hummus, best at the luncheonette of Abu Shukri (63 al-Wad Rd.; 972-2/627-1538). And stock up on rich spice mixes— za'atar, dukkah, harissa, zhoug— but pack carefully, or your clothes will be scented forever. Al-Wad Rd. at Souk Kahn ez-Zeit St.; open daily, sunup till sundown.
Mercado de la Merced
Said to be the world's largest enclosed market, a claim I find no reason to dispute, this is a scene of brilliant colors: vivid fabrics; mounds of spices; lush tropical fruits; more kinds of beans than one can imagine; and chilies, chilies, chilies (tiny cascabels; wide, fat poblanos; small oval serranos; smoke-dried chipotles; and dozens more). Among many unforgettable sights are the huge sheets of golden-fried whole pigskins hanging from the rafters, to be broken into portions called chicharrones and eaten as a snack. Pick up lacquer-bright dried chilies and rich Mexican vanilla extract. At the intersection of Cerrada del Rosario and Calle General Anaya; open daily 6 a.m.-4 p.m.
Feast your eyes on pyramids of the big, white radishes Münchners love sliced and layered on top of buttered, chive-sprinkled bread; mounds of cabbages and stout leeks for hefty soups; honey in hive-shaped vats; barrels of sauerkraut; craggy, crisp-crusted Bauernbrot (corned farmers' bread); shops filled with meats and game. Stop for a hot wurst and a Munich Weissbier, a pale brew sparked with a dash of lemon. Or join market workers for a lusty breakfast of boiled beef at Beim Sedlmayer (40 Westenriederstrasse; 49-89/ 226-219). Sparkassenstrasse near Kaufingerstrasse; Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
Union Square Greenmarket
My hometown favorite is a true farmers' market: vendors must produce or gather their merchandise, be it pumpkins or hand-turned pretzels. For many city dwellers, the fruit, vegetables, and flowers sold here provide a sense of season. Rhubarb, chervil, and lacy salad greens herald spring, soon followed by strawberries, new peas, and peonies. Midsummer is marked by corn, tomatoes, peppers of many colors, zinnias, and roses. Autumn arrives with chrysanthemums, wild mushrooms, game, and a botanist's array of local apples. Tastings, book signings, and performances by street musicians add to the festive hubbub. Broadway at E. 17th St.; Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Mercato della Vucciria
Set it to music and you have a grand opera: the passionate shouting, promising, and bargaining make shopping as entertaining as it is practical. Bright-eyed fish sparkle with freshness, some still curled in rigor mortis. Here there is a giant, roseate octopus, there a trophy-size head of a swordfish and tuna as blood-red as beef. Sides of lamb and goat are split and hung to show organs in situ, and olives glint like polished stones. Piles of eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers, next to trays of salt-dried capers and bottles of golden olive oil, will put you in the mood for caponata. For lunch, try a focaccia stuffed with innards and a gelato in brioche, the world's most remarkably lush ice cream sandwich. Market heads south from Chiesa di San Domenico; Monday-Saturday 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
Dupleix Marchés Volants
A caravan of itinerant markets sets up weekly in different neighborhoods (I check the schedule with my hotel concierge). Vendors arrive almost at dawn to erect their tables and tents, and depart shortly after lunch. In between, they display a dazzling array of all the foods France is famous for, including artisanal cheeses, fresh and cured meats, woodlands of wild mushrooms, and a dieter's nightmare of tarts and breads. I look for earthy, garlicky pâté de campagne, a crisp baguette, a bunch of ruby radishes, a shriveled chunk of ripe goat cheese, and a sliver of apple tart. Then I buy a bottle of good wine and a small bouquet of flowers as a centerpiece, and have myself a hotel-room feast (I always travel with a knife, fork, and spoon, as well as a few paper plates).
Tsukiji Fish Market
This staggering warehouse sprawl rises from the mists on the edge of the Sumidagawa River. Heaped with stacks of just about everything that swims, it is a whirlwind of activity. Most spectacular is the tuna hall, where fresh and frozen specimens are lined up like fighter planes on an airfield. During the lightning-fast auction held at 5 a.m., bids may go as high as $50,000 for a 500-pound blue-fin (a lot of sashimi any way you slice it). In another hall are live shellfish, kept in vats of bubbling water. You'll want to wear boots: the area is constantly hosed down, keeping it virtually odor-free. Morning appetites are satisfied with some of the city's freshest, cheapest, and simplest sushi at, among other choices, Daiwa (Tsukiji 5-2-1, Chuoku). If you're feeling brave, try "dancing" shrimp— alive and wiggling after being shelled. Between Shin Ohashi-Dori Ave. and the Sumidagawa River, Tsukiji; Monday-Saturday 5 a.m.-6 p.m. (but the real action is between 5 and 6 a.m.).