Food markets link food on our tables to their sources.
Whether it’s the a sprawling fish market in Seoul, Korea, or a few street vendors in a Mexican village markets deliver a sensory experience like no other, replete with sights, smells, and tastes that sharpen the appetite, and the opportunity to eat delicious food in
stalls, or rush home and cook.
The diversity of markets is astonishing whether it is the city-size souk (Arabic for market) in Cairo, or one man selling salt in Tibet, they al share some common essential traits.
Markets are theatres, some more than others where vendors and buyers meet and exchange good and money. In some cases it may be an exchange of good upon agreement of buyer and seller.
In northern Europe, markets are quiet, orderly, organized and clean, while in the Middle East they are boisterous, loud, full of produce fruit, but vendors do not allow customers to select. In Armenia you can select in farmers’ markets, but in specially designed markets like in Yerevan are stalls with colourful fruits and vegetables that are tastefully displayed in sections. You can haggle, but not select.
Russian markets are neatly divided into sections of meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and staples.
Small-scale artisan cheese makers in recent years have become pillars of farmer’s markets in England, France, Canada, the U.S.A, Finland and Germany. Here you can find cheeses you will never encounter in grocery stress. Vendors provide information ad even suggest recipes
In French farmers’ markets vendors tell you how you can best cook their vegetables and if you are looking for something they don’t have, will direct you to a stall where it can be found.
Markets existed in antiquity, and are likely to last to eternity.
In Rome, Trajan’s market created during Emperor Trajan’s reign is an architectural wonder worth visiting. Even its ruins are impressive.
Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta in Padua, Mercato Centrale, Bologna, Porta Nolano, Naples, Vucerria in Palermo are all famous markets within Italy and many tourists visit them.
When in Paris, try to visit Marche des Enfants Rouge in the Marais district, Marche Biologique des Batignolle, and the wholesale market in Rungis. They are all outstanding examples of markets.
Tsukiji fish market is world famous and listed as a sight in official brochures, but Lucena’s market in the Philippines catering to 500 000 inhabitants of the city is a ramshackle of buildings with stall squeezed into corners. Yet people frequent it even though there are modern department stores in the city where everything is displayed in an orderly and appealing fashion
In Indonesia, Pasar Bolu market, Raptepao Sulawesi is famous; as is Munag Mai market in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Pasar Baru Bukit Bintag in Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia; Binh Tay Market in Huang Prabang in Laos are famous for their diversity, chaotic activity, and lively bartering. In these markets you can buy live chickens and the vendor will quickly slaughter and pluck it for you by the roadside.
In Canada, farmers’ markets abound and more and more come on stream to respond to demand in and around Toronto, the largest city in the country, there are many farmers’ markets. The large ones are colourful in the summer.
In the U.S.A the popularity of farmers’ markets is increasing exponentially especially in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and many other large cities. It seems that city-dwellers are hungry for really fresh foods.
In developing countries, farmers’ markets deliver unfailingly fresh produce either by the farmer, or a middleman who buys the produce early in the morning and sells it by noon.
Supermarkets are strictly an American invention of convenience. You drive to the location, park your car (all have enormous parking lots for free), get a shopping cart and help yourself to any food you want, buy toiletries, even have a prescription filled and line up at one of the cashier’s lines to pay.
Everything is highly impersonal, and you are on your own. Most cashiers cannot even distinguish Italian flat leaf parsley from regular parsley, or don’t even know about celery root, or for that matter Swede (rutabaga), parsnip and the list goes on. Sometimes I wonder who actually trains these people.
Most of the time cashiers lack the information and bar codes, and deplorably cannot even recognize many vegetables and fruits.
They are poorly paid, and more importantly poorly trained. If you don’t watch computer screens like a hawk, they will charge more than the advertised price and otherwise make mistakes in their favour. Short changing unsuspecting customers is another way some cashiers enrich themselves.
If you are looking for something special, you can try to find a rare knowledgeable employee.
A large supermarket carries more than 10 000 items. You can rest assured that any “fresh” produce is at least three or four days old, probably older. The same is true for fish on display, mostly already portioned and packaged. The weight of packaging is included in the price.
The department consists of a few shelves full of portioned and packaged meats. There never a whole animal carcass to see how well it is proportioned and what quality it represents.
There are discount supermarkets with low prices but generally offer second grade food except for manufactured edibles. Then there are first grade very large supermarkets with wide aisles extensive choice, clean, but rarely properly staffed to provide information.
The produce is generally not as fresh, but of better quality, but prices are unconscionably high.
What irks me more than anything else now that most have installed self-checkout stations where you can scan things purchased, or look up codes for produce and fruits and pay most of the time by the store’s debit card. Cash payments are not very poplar. All the management does is stock the shelves, you serve yourself, checkout yourself and the company pockets the profits.
Is this proper retailing and service or a rip off?