Food helps us discover the local culture when we travel, so we’ve partnered with Arizona-based Susan Lanier-Graham, of Wander With Wonder, to check out some great farmers markets to get up close and personal with food and culture when you travel the world.
I love exploring foods when I travel the world. Sometimes it’s sitting down to an amazing over-the-top culinary experience. The ones in Las Vegas immediately come to mind. Often, however, it’s simply experiencing what the locals enjoy every single day. There’s no better way to do that, in my opinion, than to wander into local farmers markets. The best part of all, you can usually find something to sample, prepared food to enjoy, and some great local treasures. Here are a few of my favorites around the world.
Oxnard Farmers Market
Most people have never heard of Oxnard, California and it’s too bad. This Central Coast town is about 60 miles north of Los Angeles with wide sandy beaches adjacent to the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. The area is known for its produce—particularly luscious strawberries.
The Oxnard Farmers Market is in the historic Plaza Park in downtown Oxnard every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It gives you a chance to not only purchase those local berries and listen to live music, but you can pick up a selection of local pastries, baked goods and honey. You can also shop for jewelry and other handcrafted items and listen to live music. If you book a room at the ocean-front Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort, you’ll be able to take your delectable produce back to your private deck or down to the beach for your own private picnic.
Huntington Beach Certified Farmers Market
If you are in Southern California, be sure to check out Huntington Beach’s Certified Farmers Market that takes place every Friday in Pier Plaza from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in conjunction with Art-A-Faire. The Farmers Market is held by the Orange County Farm Bureau and everything sold is certified organic. It includes organic meats, seafood and amazing Southern California produce.
It was here several years ago that I discovered pluots, a hybrid fruit that is a blend between a plum and an apricot. I wandered through the market eating it, juice dribbling down my arm. There can be no shame when good fruit is involved on a warm summer day!
The Art-A-Faire runs adjacent to the Farmer’s Market from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and features more than 50 vendors who sell handmade art, featuring everything from jewelry to surfing-related merchandise—which is a must for Surf City USA. There are some great hotels within walking distance of the Huntington Beach pier, making it an easy weekend escape.
The Market at Pepper Place
If you’re headed to Birmingham, Alabama, The Market at Pepper Place brings local produce, food and crafts to one downtown spot every Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to noon. This is a year-round market that heads outdoors from early April until early December with artists and local musicians performing as well. Then, in the cooler months, it moves indoors. I loved the gorgeous sunflowers that were displayed all over the market when I visited in summer. Despite being in the city, it had a fun, small-town vibe.
Of course, being in the South, there is no better place to get fresh tomatoes than right here in The Market at Pepper Place. The vendors usually have samples for you to try and they are some of the most flavorful tomatoes you’ll taste anywhere. There’s something amazing about homegrown tomatoes.
Do you have an extended stay in Birmingham? Book a room that has its own kitchen and shop the Farmers Markets to find in-season local ingredients while you’re in town. The market even provides some great recipes to give you ideas on how to use the fresh ingredients you’ll find, so go ahead and try those collard greens, persimmons or rutabaga that you might not be able to get back home.
Le Marché du Vieux Port Québec
Québec City has quite a few farmers markets that date back to the 1600s. It is part of its European roots and a part of the daily shopping routine for locals. A cooperative of farms surrounding Québec City operates the large farmers market located in the Old Port, Le Marché du Vieux Port Québec. It opened there in 1987 and went from seasonal to year-round about a decade later. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
The best part about visiting Le Marché is that you can sample not only the produce from around Québec City, but also some of the most amazing strawberries in the world. Located on an island in the Saint Lawrence River about 3 miles from downtown Québec City, Île d’Orléans is a separate world unto its own. It also is home to these small, sweet strawberries that have more flavor than should be possible for one berry. If you don’t have a chance to get to the island, never fear—you can pick them up in the market.
Of course, there are plenty of other great things to keep you busy in Québec City. It is definitely a city filled with great culture and food.
Farmers Markets in Antibes, France
If you head to France, you are in for a real treat when you explore the farmers markets there. While I enjoy the markets throughout Europe, I think my favorites have been in the south of France. The markets are filled with flowers, fish, local spices and foods. It makes my love affair with the south of France come alive.
I especially enjoy the daily Provençal market in Antibes. Located between Nice and Cannes, Antibes is my favorite spot in the world—to date. Part of my love affair is with the food and fresh local ingredients. There are flowers and olives (you must try the olive tapenade), fresh fish and sausages. But the cheeses are the crowning glory. French cheese is my single biggest weakness. You can taste the French countryside in every bite, whether it is soft and creamy or hard and tangy. I once wrote an entire article about the beauty of French cheese.
I also always stock up on spices while in the Antibes markets. It’s cheap and they are easy to pack in your suitcases. You can get a behind the scenes look at the markets in nearby Cannes, complete with a cooking class on how to prepare a few local specialties, by booking a tour with a local guide.
Farmers Markets in St-Tropez
If you continue along the Mediterranean Coast to St-Tropez, you will find more great markets. I think my favorite of the St-Tropez farmers markets are the fish markets. They are bright, colorful and always lively. You have to get out early to explore the fish markets, but I’m always fascinated by the variety of fish that come from the Mediterranean waters.
Exploring Taiwan Markets
For something completely different—at least for most Americans—head to one of the bustling Asian markets. These are filled with colors, sights and sounds different from anything we find across the US. I had great fun exploring the Taiwanese markets. There are both day and night markets. While not traditional farmers markets, the Asian markets feature everything from fresh grown items to unique delicacies. You can find stalls cooking up fish, soups, dumplings and noodle dishes.
I especially loved the night markets in Jioufen (or Jiufen), a mountain town east of Taipei, Taiwan. This is an exotic village of winding alleyways, tea houses, souvenir shops and restaurants. I was fascinated with Jishan Street, the main market street. You can find vendors cooking up just about anything. I tried an interesting assortment, including beautiful mushrooms and dumplings. I passed on the stinky fermented tofu.
Back in Taipei, I again found myself wandering the markets. The cacophony of people and motor scooters made it an exciting way to experience Taiwanese culture. I discovered delicious fruits, but can’t figure out why Asian fruits have such intense flavors. The markets also contain an assortment of great handcrafted items.
The Nanjichang Night Market is one of the single best market experiences I’ve ever had. I snacked on out-of-this-world steamed buns and dumplings. If you don’t want to take on the night market alone, book a 3-hour guided tour of Nanjichang Night Market to help you decipher the signs and interesting array of foods.
Navigating Thailand’s Markets
Another fun place for Asian farmers markets is Thailand. You will find a variety of markets throughout the country, ranging from small and quaint in the countrysides to large and bustling in the cities. Markets define Thai culture. I doubt there is anything you can’t find in a market—from live animals to worms and insects to noodles and scrumptious fruit. Be sure to sample the colorful dragonfruit, which is not frequently found in the US. I wasn’t a fan of smelly durian fruit—although it tastes much better than it smells—but it is an experience when visiting a Thai market.
When you visit Bangkok, you might consider booking a fully-serviced apart-hotel with a kitchen. Then, when you wander through one of the many markets, you can experiment with the foods and sample them. Of course, with so much great street food that is so cheap, you might find yourself simply going from market to restaurant to sample the bounty.
As you travel the world, exploring farmers markets is a great way to experience the local culture. People love when you ask questions about their food and how it is part of their everyday lives. Experiment and happy eating!
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