A stroll through some of the world's best food markets can provide more entertainment, drama, and eye-candy than anything you'll find on the Food Network. The offerings not only tell a complex story about a country's landscape, they relate what's in season, what's for dinner, and what a culture holds dear. They provide sustenance while doubling as a community center, with endless delicious pay-offs within. These 15 iconic markets around the world are some of the richest in product, history, and local flavor.
By Kathleen Squires
Borough Market, London, England
Traditionalists shop side-by-side with trendsetting artisans at London's oldest market, which dates back 800 years. More than 100 stalls proffer baked goods, confections, cheese, charcuterie, wine, beer, fruit, veggies, spices, meat, fish and seafood, along with a staggering variety of dining options, from Thai street food to Indian dosa and Argentine empanadas. The market is so popular, it even publishes its own magazine, Market Life.
Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel
A veritable opera awaits in each alley here, as vendors enjoy singing to sell their wares. Follow the music to fresh-baked bourekas—savory pastries filled with cheese, spinach, or potato—or to smoky grilled sausages or an entire Asian section for aficionados of Eastern ingredients. Minzar, the 24-hour restaurant on site, is a great stop for snacking.
Fish Market, Bergen, Norway
While browsers can buy some vacuum-sealed salmon to bring home as a souvenir, it's best to pull up a stool at one of the 40 purveyors to dive right into gems from the surrounding Nordic waters. This is where to compare and contrast crab and determine (once and for all) whether stone, king, or brown is what floats your boat; it's also where the adventurous can nibble on whale meat.
Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh, Morocco
It's always show time right in the middle of the Old City's main square, where snake charmers, fortune tellers, belly dancers, and monkey handlers provide the entertainment among stalls selling fresh-squeezed orange juice and exotic teas. When night falls, however, the energy considerably brightens in Marrakesh's center as over 100 open kitchens take over, grilling kebabs, stewing tajines, and cooking cous cous well into the wee hours.
Kreta Ayer Wet Market, Singapore
Anything that wiggles, wriggles, or writhes populates this market, which proffers eels, frogs, snakes, and reptiles in addition to meat, produce and herbal remedies. A landmark of Singapore's Chinatown, the term "wet market" comes from the ritual of constantly hosing down the floors, so wear shoes that can wade through small rivulets. Pop in the food hall upstairs for noodle and tofu dishes.
La Boqueria, Barcelona, Spain
Welcome to jamon heaven! Sample the best of Spain's cured meats, from bellota to chorizo to Serrano inside this historic site, which sits right off of the city's popular pedestrian strip, Las Ramblas. Then pick up some Manchego cheese, manzanilla olives, and marcona almonds to round out an entire day's snacking. Or settle into one of the tapas bars for a Catalonian chickpea stew. A market has stood on this site since the 13th century; today, more than 250 vendors bustle inside the iron-framed hall.
Les Halles de Paul Bocuse, Lyon, France
Local hero Paul Bocuse is one of the world's most influential chefs; so his seal-of-approval promises extraordinary quality. The modern glass structure opened in 1971, though Bocuse lent his name to the space in 2006, and the site has served as a marketplace since 1859. What to expect inside this Lyon icon: a wealth of regional products, from escargot to oysters; foie gras to tarte framboise. Don't be surprised if you bump into other Michelin-starred names here.
Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City, Mexico
Chili-heads flock to this sanctuary of the Scoville scale, where dozens of peppers coexist with other essentials of Mexican cuisine, like huitlacoche, cactus paddles, mole paste, and more. There's a plethora of piñatas for sale, in addition to the candy to fill them up. Locals come for antojitos, street food like tacos, quesadillas, and sopes, and the market especially livens up on September 24, the feast day for its patron saint, when mariachis bellow through the aisles.
Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo, Uruguay
Accomplished asadors fire up steaks, poultry, game, sausages, and maybe a vegetable or two, at each of a dozen parrilla-style grill restaurants inside this pavilion in Montevideo. Grab a quick appetizer at Empanadas Carolina near the Piedras Street entrance before settling at a counter at one of the restaurants for a meaty feast. Finish with a medio y medio, the signature sweet-and-dry white wine refresher at Roldo's.
Mercato Centrale, Bologna, Italy
One look-around here reveals exactly why Bologna is known as the food capital of Italy. The area is responsible for many of the country's culinary gems, from prosciutto di Parma to balsamic vinegar to mortadella. This is the place to pick up these regional treasures, along with housewares like pasta cutters and salumi slicers. Enjoy lunch at the adjoining café of the gourmet shop A.F. Tamburini, where the homemade pasta is irresistible.
Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne, Australia
With more than 700 vendors, the largest market in the Southern Hemisphere takes up two city blocks made up of a variety of "halls." The Deli Hall is where to get all manner of charcuterie and cheese, while the Meat Hall features everything from kangaroo to crocodile to chicken. The Food Court offers a multi-ethnic experience of eats, from Middle Eastern to Asian to Italian, with seating for 400. Overwhelmed? Take one of the many morning tours before shopping.
Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
Vibrant, colorful mounds in saffron, gold, green, ruby, and amber make a veritable feast for the eyes and a favorite for shutterbugs. Just adjacent to Istanbul's vast Grand Bazaar, the 88 "rooms" in this structure date back to the 17th century, when it was dubbed the "Egyptian market" for selling goods shipped in from Cairo. In addition to spices, this is a great souvenir stop for herbs, oils, nuts, soaps, dried fruit, and boxes of Turkish delight.
St. Lawrence Market, Toronto, Canada
There's always something going on within this behemoth brick building. Browsing the wares from fishmongers, butchers, cheese makers, and produce vendors becomes even more enjoyable with the city's signature peameal bacon sandwich in hand—a thick slab of pork crusted in cornmeal in a Kaiser roll—provided by Carousel Bakery on the upper level. On Saturdays, the North Market fills with local farmers. Classes, lectures, cooking demos, and guided tours keep it one of Toronto's most bustling spots.
Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan
Sushi: it's what's for breakfast on the outskirts of this world-famous fish market. With 2,000 tons of fish and seafood moving through each day, it's hard to find fresher fare after the excitement of the tuna auction, when restaurateurs, retailers, and wholesalers compete for the best catch. Only licensed purchasers are allowed to buy, and while access to the wholesale market is restricted, a limited number of spectators are welcomed to the auctions in the early mornings.
Yeliseyevsky, Moscow, Russia
Shop like a Tsar within a converted 18th century mansion that brims with baroque detail. Under gilded columns and shining chandeliers, this is where to stock up on caviar, sturgeon, and a dizzying variety of specialty chocolate, 24 hours a day. Fancy your vodka in a replica Faberge egg? A selection waits, just down the aisle. With staff decked-out in traditional costume, this is one of the world's most transporting shopping experiences.