European markets are wonderful…and different

I am a farmers’ market junkie. I can (and do!) spend hours roaming around taking in the abundance of all things animal, vegetable and mineral. Good markets are a feast for your senses and a tonic for the blues. I don’t recall ever leaving a farmers’ market without a smile on my face.

I love markets so much that I rarely travel anywhere without checking out the local markets wherever I happen to land. As a result I have a LOT of market photos.  I decided that posting some here might inspire some of you or at least provide a little respite from the stresses of life in this busy harvest, post-Irene season. Take a little tour with me…these photos are from a couple of trips to Europe I was lucky enough to take in recent years.
Europeans really know how to do markets! I will say that the neighborhood markets I visited in France are more centered on the business of vending and less on the social aspects of my regular markets at home. Outside of tourist regions or special holiday markets, I rarely saw musicians or demonstrations at any of the European markets. I did see a lot of determined shoppers towing their 2-wheeled carts and moving efficiently through the crowds.  It is clear that these shoppers are regulars and consider the market an extension of the small specialty shops they visit daily.

The fish vendors that we visited with were wonderfully helpful...

The charcuterie displays were an education in the wise use of less common cuts...not to mention a great place to grab picnic fixings.

Outside of the US, markets (and farmers) have many fewer regulatory constraints to comply with. I am not writing this to start a debate about food safety or the role of government in the food system, nor am I suggesting that our markets are any less wonderful. But the reality is that markets outside the US are different. In Europe, the markets are expansive–literally because they often take place in large village squares and figuratively because they have an amazing range of products. It is expected that you would be able to purchase everything for an entire meal at the market. Stopping at the supermarket on the way home is not part of the culture–if something is not sold at the market, you don’t need it. Consequently, you find fish, meats, charcuterie, and cheeses mixed in with flowers, vegetables, pastas, breads and pastries. Still,  on a really  hot day, it’s best to get to the market early as some of the fish and cheese displays can get quite pungent.

Also, unlike the markets that I frequent at home, most of the European markets did sell products that clearly were not locally grown — almost every market had a fruit vendor selling mangoes, bananas, pineapples and other tropical fare. And, of course, plenty of spices, herbs, coffee and teas are available.

For a really breath-taking market experience, it is hard to beat the Easter Markets along the Rhine. There are friendly competitions among vendors to see who can have the most eye-catching display…and the winners are those of us lucky enough to be in the square on that day.

Easter Markets are a destination worth making time for...

Even the pasta gets dressed for Easter...

We discovered the hard way that these beautiful eggs are not hard-boiled...what a mess!

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