Most tourists like to meander through marketplaces, if not for the view, for the sale they expect to gain. As an itinerary planner, I often include these venues as places of interest. Those who like to peregrinate the length and breadth of a city will inevitably run into a souk, bazaar, flea-market, fair or arcade of some kind, and may choose to wander in just to pass the time. Whether indoor or outdoor, marketplaces are treasure troves worth exploring. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a market strategy before venturing inside. Usually, markets are jam packed with cultural novelties, artifacts, art, crafts, sculptures, food and just about anything you can think of. It’s where vendors and customers interact to each other’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction. On location, one can expect to witness a dichotomy of wills on display in business transactions and haggling skills. It’s a place where real treasure and junk coexist, but that’s a determination which rest solely in the eyes of the beholder.
Large marketplaces are diverse, and frequently sell food, clothing, artifacts, etc. all under one roof. These kinds typically draw the larger crowds. Smaller markets tend to specialize. More like the antiques, fruit, vegetables, and flea-market types. However, no matter the size or category, people are drawn like magnets to explore and maybe to procure a purchase or two. I confess I am no different. As a world traveler, I use the opportunity to browse large and small markets to better understand the culture I’m in. Though not a foodie, I usually gravitate to the food, fruits and vegetables markets where I can taste-test and learn of different foods and their preparation (tip: a sure way to fill your belly for free). To browse in any one of the locations I mention hereafter would be worth the time and effort, and in my opinion, should not be overlooked or dismissed as a nonentity. About that strategy though, firmly answer the following questions: Do I seriously want to make a purchase? Do I have space to carry it or have the means to ship it home? Do I want to only enjoy all that I’ll see? The answers to these pertinent questions will help to keep you from busting your budget, from regretting an impulsive buy, and from making a bad decision on the spur of the moment.
One memorable market I visited and worth mentioning is Japan’s Tsukiji Market. It no longer occupies the location it did for the past 83 years, but has been relocated to Toyosu, and is so called. My experience perusing that iconic landmark which supplied a third of the world’s fish and seafood was jaw-dropping. It was my first time visiting a fish market of that magnitude. I watched fish sellers shout, bid, work, and even sing as they moved fish in and out. My host bought a few fillet chunks of tuna, another ‘first’ seeing the actual fish, and the size of it. Up until then I was only accustomed to the canned mush “Chicken of the Sea” Bumble Bee brand. The tuna was served with miso soup and to this day, it was the best tuna I’ve ever tasted, finger licking good.
Two other markets that I enjoyed visiting were the Spice and Grand Bazaars, respectively, in Istanbul. The minute you step into the mall, the scent of a variety of spices assault the nose. Piles of cumin, curry, paprika, saffron, dried fruits, nuts, herbs, mushrooms, twigs, and leaves I could not identify were on display. Barrels of figs, olives, grains and ready-made salad condiments were neatly arranged to encourage the salivating visitor to buy. The Grand Bazaar also is as it states – Grand. One can easily get lost in the myriad of stalls if not careful. Vendors sell everything you can think of. It is a hive of activity and a pick-pockets dream location for their nefarious acts. However, these two locations are interesting and should be explored once in Turkey.
Israel’s Mahane Yehuda and Carmel Markets, respectively, to my mind are a foodie’s delight. Vendors are friendly and quick to invite you into their stall to take a look. A cacophony of shouting and calling to patrons to buy is the daily norm. One vendor in particular caught my attention, crying in a loud shrill voice, ‘Boreka’ (Bow -reee-kah). From his stall he managed to catch the attention of others and drew a crowd. He deftly manipulated the fast-food he was preparing and handed them out on order. I could not resist trying the stuffed, fried-dough, after all they were selling like hot cakes. I was not disappointed, it was delicious. Jaffa Flea Market was also a haven for old, antique items that could be used to decorate the home. Furniture dealers displayed nifty woodwork designs that were not from the standard assembly line. It was interesting just to inspect the skilled workmanship of the furniture.
Yet another food market worth mentioning and one I visited two years ago was the fruit and vegetable market at Saquisili in Ecuador. The produce was fresh and, in many cases, organic. Local farmers sold their produce wholesale directly to merchants, retailers and individual buyers. Vendors organized by neatly squatting under one large roof to display a wide variety of their goods. This market event operates just once a week, is the highlight of its small community, and people of all walks of life travel there over great distances to fraternize, buy and sell their goods.
I could go on and on about the many markets I’ve had the privilege to peruse in places like: Cambodia, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Italy, India, Peru, Thailand to name a few, but beside food, I love to frequent markets that offer old as well as new stuff. In Seoul, South Korea, I stopped by Namdeamun Market where designer name brands were the order of the day. The knock-offs whether genuine or not were readily available on every table and stall. I bought two identical style purses in different colors and a hat that I still wear to this day (colorful winter hat with two braids, my friends may remember it 😊). I still own and periodically use these items. Not a bad purchase and quality of items I’ve had for more than 20 years now, if I should say so.
Community Peeps, if you do not have a market strategy when you visit such a place you are bound to come out a little lighter in the wallet than you bargained for. Therefore, it is imperative to walk in with a clear plan that is attainable. What has been your experience venturing into these or similar turf? Any haggling stories you’d like to repeat here? If so, please write them in the comment box below. As always, I’m eager to hear about it.
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