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Visiting open-air markets can give you a glimpse into a city, regions food culture. A visit may also give you an opportunity to visit a neighborhood you may not have thought about seeing while traveling. At many, you can. find local artisans showcasing their crafts, traditional clothing and textiles, and native fruits and vegetable. Best of all, you may try local street food that you may not get to experience in a restaurant.
Throughout our travels, we have visited some great markets, where we’ve introduced our kids and ourselves to new street foods, new flavors and at times produce and spices we don’t have at home. Though we’ve walked through so many great ones, we narrowed down our five favorite markets.
Pikes Place, Seattle Washington USA
Pikes Place has been featured in numerous TV food shows and movies, showcasing its beautiful location and abundance of food–especially seafood. The market is located along the Puget Sound, a stunning view for anyone who loves the water.
If you’ve seen footage of the market on TV, then you may have seen the fish mongers throwing large salmon to each other. After having seen this, I’m still not sure how you catch a slippery, somewhat slimy, huge salmon being tossed to you.
Pikes Place offers a range of produce, meat, seafood, and artisanal craft stalls. Our daughter’s first taste of dungeness crab came after we bought a cup of immaculated picked meat from one of the stalls. She was hooked, and the next time she saw it, she ordered a whole one. You’ll also find book shops and plenty of restaurants, some even overlooking the water.
When we visited, we went late morning to see this iconic open-air market in Seattle and tour the many stalls. The summer peaches we bought were an amazing snack. We skipped the first Starbucks location across the street (as we suggest you do as well). Don’t miss Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, which is also across street. The kids will watch in amazement as cheese curds are made before their eyes, and you’ll enjoy biting on the squeaky curds with them.
Jean Talon Market, Montreal Canada
My most vivid memory of the Jean Talon open-air market in Montreal was the taste of wild blueberries and raspberries. I don’t think I have ever tasted a blueberry that sweet and crisp. Our kids devoured them in seconds and begged for seconds. You’ll see them at multiple stalls, with the signs proclaiming “bleuet sauvage” (after all, you’re in Quebec).
Jean Talon Market not only had the best blueberries, but also fresh seasonal produce. In addition to the artisanal cheese stands in the market, the adjoining street has a row of shops featuring gourmet foodstuffs. Keep walking through the market and you’ll find delectable dessert stands that looked almost too beautiful to eat, and local maple syrup, fresh baked bread, and butcher and fish stands.
While we saw plenty of prepared food stands, after eating so much fruit, tasting some local cheese, and finishing it all off with some maple sugar treats, we were plenty full.
The best surprise, at least for my husband, was the fresh oyster stands. He took a chair, pointed to the ones he wanted, and consumed a dozen, freshly caught oysters, in no time. He probably could’ve eaten 3 dozen more.
Jean Talon market is a perfect open-air market visit in Montreal with its plentiful seasonal offerings, local offerings and even fresh made goods. It is open year round for visitors. If you are staying in city center, be prepared to take a taxi/uber or the metro. I would go back during blueberry season in Quebec Provence just to get my hands on some fresh, sweet blueberries.
Chaing Mai Sunday Night Market, Thailand
In city and towns throughout Thailand, you will find night markets. Night markets come to life around 5:30-6:00PM and run until the wee hours of the morning. Vendors sell everything–toys, local cuisine, clothing, produce, souvenirs, make-up, and you may even find a foot massage stand.
We loved the Sunday night Market in Chaing Mai. It is a busy, large market, so be prepared to spend time exploring the different stalls, street foods, and local made goods. We actually bought our first pair of elephant pants here. I say first, because our kids fell in love with the comfort of them and we ended buying more before our trip was over. (We should note that once we returned to the US, this large collection of baggy pants was never worn again.)
The size and crowds of the night market made me feel almost trapped and completely lost at times. For our kids it was exciting because it was a market at night. Pushing our way through the crowds we came across endless street food stands. We tried everything from savory pancakes, chicken satay, skewered shrimp, and plenty of sweets. An hour was the limit for us, the kids started tiring of the endless amount of stalls.
Shuk HaCarmel,Tel Aviv Israel
The Shuk HaCarmel is the largest open-air market in Tel Aviv. It’s open Sunday to Friday early morning to evening. Note that it closes early on Friday. You’ll find everything you need; electronics, clothes, spices, produce, meats, candy stalls, and fresh prepared breads and meals. The market stalls line a narrow street which can at times, become very crowded and tight.
When we went to the market, we passed by the electronics and clothes quickly because our interest was in the food stalls. We tried quickly passing the candy stalls, but as any parent will know, kids will find the candy like a needle in a haystack. We loved stopping at the spice stalls and smelling the different scents created by the spices.
The colorful spices were overflowing the barrels in which they were held. It’s as if one strong wind came along, we would all be covered in spices, head to toe. Another favorite was the stalls selling all types of olives. The olives were all in large barrels and local olive oil was displayed in between the barrels. We bought some of the olives and snacked on them as we continued walking. The produce stands were filled with fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables. I particularly enjoyed the fresh, large figs being sold; I have never seen figs so large, fresh, or so sweet.
If you look carefully, tucked behind some of the stalls are cafes and restaurants. Hummus HaCarmel is one such place. A well known hummuseria, serving up plates of hummus, some with additional toppings like whole chickpeas and tahini Some of the best hummus I have had.
Our kids favorite was the Druze pita stand. The pita is thin, almost crepe like, and served warm with olive oil and zaatar spice, a Middle Eastern spice combination. It is made on on a large round, heated silver inverted disc called a taboon. The women making the bread make it look so easy, I can imagine it is not. We all pulled off a pieces and rushed to grab more from the large piece we had. It was gone in seconds.
San Pedro Market, Cusco Peru
The San Pedro Market in Cusco Peru quickly became a family favorite upon our first visit. Immediately we were hit with sense overload. The pop of colors from all of the traditional Peruvian textiles were everywhere. Stalls selling Pachamama dolls, table cloths, table runners, hats, and then brightly dressed, to the women selling at various stalls, dressed in traditional woven textiles caught our eye at every look.
The produce stalls also added to the unending scenes of colors. We saw rows of yellow, purple, and red corn. Stalls were stacked high with potatoes in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Along with them, plentiful, local herbs ranged from a bright grass color green to a dark evergreen green.
Passing by the fruit juice stalls still added to the array of colors. It also reminded us of the fruit we had while visiting the Amazon Jungle in Peru. The assortment of fruits were displayed at each one. It was tough making a decision. Did I want papaya, guava, pineapple, orange, or mango?
The smells came assulted us all at once. Fresh, steaming soups and meats made our mouths water. Wading through the different stalls selling different items also produced scents, some sweet, some earthy from the produce. The kids crinkled their noses through the gamy and pungent raw meats.
San Pedro market has stalls selling items not typically found at our local open-air markets. Women sat on the floor, with blankets full of roasted cuy (guinea pig). We saw tubs of coca leaves, the same ingredient used for tea to combat altitude sickness and used in the production of cocaine being sold within the market walls. There were large pieces of corn boiled and sold for a couple of cents.