When I travel, I admit to being nosey. I love observing how people perform tasks that may seem mundane at home. Take food shopping. (Although while I am confessing, I have to say that I find something relaxing in food shopping, planning my menus over the course of the week, discovering new products and identifying what produce is in season.) A certain weekly market in Annecy has me convinced that the French have elevated this otherwise laborious routine into an art form. The market takes over most of the old town (vieux ville) with produce, fresh baked goods, charcuterie, cheese.
This market really looks like this, it is definitely not a gimmiky, Disney set up. If you are considering a trip to the Western part of France, I heartily recommend Annecy. The town sits on the northern part of Lac d’Annecy and is south of Geneva. We visited a few years back when we traveled around France to watch various stages of the Tour de France, and this town was a highlight of the trip for me. I loved the coziness, the people, and the food was certainly delicious. My only negative comment, is that this town was built in medieval times, well before urban planning and vehicular traffic were even a glimmer in some engineers eyes. My husband drove, and I tried to navigate, but sometimes by the time I find where we were on the map and found the street sign it was too late. Although, to put on a positive spin, it was certainly one method to exploring a city, but for the sake of marital bliss I’d suggest other means of transportation.
I always enjoy exploring grocery stores even in the United States where regional variations can crop up. The West Coast has yet to experience a Wegman’s, but when it does- oh, my. My inept description is a Whole Foods, Harris Teeder’s (Safeway) and an awesome wine and cheese shop on steroids. If you are ever in Austin, Texas (keep it weird) you need to check out the Whole Foods there, where it started because it exceeds the Whole Foods I’ve found in other places.
There’s Tesco of the UK, The Mad Butcher of New Zealand, Billa of Austria also found in Italy and Cech Republic, and Carreforre that likes to compete, or beat Walmart overseas. The list is long, and I’m only hitting on some of the big players, well maybe not the Mad Butcher, but the name has a certain cachet. I saw a similar store once in the southern part of the US and it image was a crazy fellow welding a cleaver. Do those images really sell?
When I think of all the food markets I have explored, I can never focus on just one, there is the Tokyo fish market, Tsukji famous for the incredible displays of fish, the various neighborhood markets of London. How about those famous spice markets of Istanbul or Marrakesh? The wonderful neighborhood farmer markets that are growing in popularity around the United States – each has a flavor that makes them unique. I’d be remiss not to mention the Ferry Building and its associated farmer’s market, here in San Francisco, and then you must consider the Pike’s Peak Market of Seattle. While I am on the subject, Baltimore has some wonderful covered markets and of course there’s the Eastern Market of Washington, DC. If you are looking to find a market near you or when you are traveling, Local Harvest is a wonderful resource.
For most Americans, this type of store may not immediately spring to mind, but I ask that you consider Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, the depachika of Isetan and Takasimaya – wandering those venerable halls for a foodie can be akin to an art lover’s perusal of the Louvre. Jason Perlow, in his blog Off the Broiler knows of what I write – check out the pictures in his post about Harrods – these photos tell the story, and bring back some wonderful memories. Granted, with the prices, daily grocery shopping is out, but who doesn’t love a good poke around places like these?
When I think of international markets, I think of these stores, a lot of them neighborhood markets that target specific population segments. In my neighborhood in San Francisco, these markets are Asian, Russian, and Hispanic, or interesting mutations. Down the block, a Brazilian market caught my eye. In the southern part of the Bay Area, the concentration of Indian markets has me running to stock up on my dal, basmatic rice, and spices I must try, even if I have no idea how. I miss the Persian markets that surrounded Washington, DC and a certain Greek market that I was very fond of, not least because it was called Aphrodite.
I classified these markets as different that grocery stores, when they are really a subset, but to me, when I go to them, its not to get my staples but to supplement my standbys with new and intriguing ingredients. Trips to these spots are mini travel adventures, when I enter chances are likely that English is not the language I hear, and the sights and smells are not familar but tantilizing in their newness. I know that the purchases I make will bring a bit of that adventure home, even if it is just for dinner, and I am excited at the possibility that I am off to a new location the next night.
I confess that much of my souvenir shopping takes place in these markets and shops. To me, many of the goods that are discovered represent a broad stroke of the tastes of the people of that local. Admittedly, it is stereotyping, but when friends and family ask about a trip; what was it like?, what did you see?, how was the food? To be able to offer a sample of something you acquired, it touches them on many senses, and demonstrates much more saliently something of the adventure I had that any description I might offer.