One of the best ways to learn about a country's food as an expat is to go to the marketplace. You can also learn a lot about the local culture there.
One of the most delightful parts of traveling is discovering foods you haven’t previously encountered. And one of the best places to do that, almost anywhere in the world, is to frequent the local outdoor market.
Not only will the “farm to table” concept take on new meaning, but you will get valuable insights into the local culture--what they eat, how they interact with each other, and, of course, how they feel about the foreigners in their midst.
I think we can both agree that going to outdoor markets is one of the highlights of any stay. Unfortunately, many foreigners tend to stick to the safety of the local supermarket because of their fear of doing something “wrong", not speaking the language well enough, not understanding the negotiation skills needed, or simply being worried about being ripped off.
You’re right about that. It took a while before we were comfortable even walking through a local market. These are typically busy, congested places with all kinds of warnings about safety.
We remain cautious, only bringing enough money for shopping, but have never had any problems. Using a backpack also makes it easier to carry everything, especially all of those oranges for freshly squeezed juice.
It’s helpful to find out from other expats or, more preferably locals, which markets to go to. Ideally, you want to find ones where the locals go since the prices will be the best. There are places such as the San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru and San Telmo in Buenos Aires, where the tourism orientation is all-too-obvious.
Chances are the locals will not be buying t-shirts with the name of the city on them when they come to buy their fruits, vegetables, and meats.
There are many times I choose to stand nearby to watch a local pay, so I know what the price should be.
Asking for the same item immediately after makes it easier to not get overcharged.
In the larger markets, it’s also typical to find pre-bagged produce at a set price. Finding five mangoes for $1USD is such a treat.
But the biggest treat is when you return home with a backpack full of the biggest avocados you have ever seen and unusual produce such as dragon fruit, cherimoyas, and nopales.
You then get to check online to come up with recipes that use them--or, of course, you can check with your neighbor. From their farm to your table, there’s nothing like it.
Tell us some of the exciting experiences you’ve had shopping at the open markets. It’s always an adventure!
by: Mike & Eileen Brill Wagner