I think I went into a minor state of shock the first time I visited Borough Market. Polished, colourful and bountiful, its easy to see that those with a taste for the haute epicurean and a pocket to match, snub regular supermarkets and hang out under the bridge, ogling the massive scallops, chocolate brownie mountains and the widest variety of mushrooms in one spot in the UK.
I’m a bit of a marketophile (my own word, thanks) and slowly started exploring the borough alternatives – Brixton’s Caribbean market, Broadway Market in East London which has a more ‘crafts’ and neighbourhood/young family vibe to it, and the Bangladeshi market along Whitechapel’s main drag. Visiting the Smithfield Meat market was a daily part of my job. I absolutely LOVE staring at ingredients/cuts I have no clue what to do with or have only read about before – its my personal goal to never have to say that I don’t know what something is, how its made, where its from, or whats best to use it for. Yes I know I’m technically aiming to be a food encylopeadia and I’ve got a long way to go!
So if you’re into markets, Europe and specifically France will blow your socks off. You start to understand why market goods are more expensive than supermarket offerings, but you also start appreciating phenomenal fresh produce – and, because these products have not been packaged/irradiated etc, you can’t stock up the way you see customers do at a supermarket. The eventual idea is to buy to eat and then do it all over – a virtually waste-free way of consuming food, but one that hardly moulds to busy lifestyles. Which is probably the reason why there are some folks out there who have never been interested in the concept, nor will be anytime soon – the experience is far too confronting and requires way too much thinking about dinner. Thats another can of worms – you can see where I could potentially go with this.
Melbourne has the biggest open air market in the world, and when visiting Queen Victoria Market give yourself a lot of time and go early, preferable get out of there before 10am. (Its still better than France – if you visit a regional market later than 8am, you go home with une carotte. Maybe.) Personally, I almost prefer the South Melbourne Market – its like a condensed Queen Vic Market, and far fewer people (Melbourne has a surprisngly large population who do their food shopping at the market only.) Preston Market is cast from the same mould as Queen Vic market but is a much smaller, community-orientated affair, which gives it an unique feeling.
Even Cape Town, probably due to trend but largely due to the popularization of organics and ‘farm fresh’ produce, now has a few markets too – notably the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock. I’m a big fan, but like elsewhere with these fairly ‘new’ markets, goods are decidedly expensive, and I would firmly classify N’goods Market into a trendy as opposed to demand-supply category, if you know what I’m getting at. Especially in the Cape – more regional, rural markets that actually involve the community wouldn’t be out of place.
As for more community based markets over on this side, I’m off to Footscray next…