Food Shopping Around the World

San Francisco Ferry Building

San Francisco Ferry Building

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. 

One of many stalls at the Annecy market (photo from pbase)

One of many stalls at the Annecy market (photo from pbase)

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.

Annecy (photo by titof)

Annecy (photo by titof)

Lac d'Annecy (photo by piotr)

Lac d'Annecy (photo by piotr)

Grocery Stores

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.

Spice Market of Istanbul

Spice Market of Istanbul

Marakkesh spice market (photo by bridgew)

Marakkesh spice market (photo by bridgew)

Food  market in Kowloon

Food market in Kowloon

 Department Stores

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?

samples of the goodies found at a depachike (photo from

samples of the goodies found at a depachike (photo from

International Markets

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.   

Indain Market

Indian Market

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.

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14 comments for “Food Shopping Around the World

  1. March 4, 2009 at 2:55 PM

    I remember in high school (I spent a year and half in upstate NY) when the local Wegmans opened. It was so cool…and let me tell you I think it was the first time many of my classmates tried an avocado, Italian country bread, and sushi (california roll was hardcore sushi in upstate NY at the time!)

    Annecy – We sort of stumbled upon this town last summer by taking the back route back to Geneva from a hiking trip in the Alps. It was such a find. We had such great food and sunned ourselves by the lake. I missed the food market though, which just gives me an excuse to plan a second visit!

    P.S. I love your posts!

  2. duodishes
    March 4, 2009 at 2:59 PM

    Your knowledge and experience with so many cultures is amazing. You’re a teacher for the rest of us! Grocery shopping is really cathartic too. And walking through markets is always a great way to relax, breathe in the scents and take in the sounds.

  3. March 4, 2009 at 4:47 PM

    You know I’m a huge Wegmans fan but I also love going to local farmers markets and visit different markets when on travel. One of the best markets we visited was in Arles, similar to the one you visited in Annency.

  4. oysterculture
    March 4, 2009 at 4:51 PM

    I sensed a kindred spirit of another Wegman’s lover.

  5. oysterculture
    March 4, 2009 at 4:52 PM

    It was a breakthrough trip for us, as my husband developed a real fondness for wine on that trip (not in any extreme sense, thank goodness) but until then he could take it or leave it, and a bottle or glass of wine I find is best shared.

  6. oysterculture
    March 4, 2009 at 4:55 PM

    Thanks for the compliments, I just love food and to travel. Food shopping is definitely cathartic for me, some people say that about dishwashing, but I just don’t get that one.

  7. March 4, 2009 at 5:40 PM

    I went to Italy in college as an art major, and I remember that visiting the market and local groceries was one of my favorite things to do. I should have known then I’d end up a foodie.

  8. foodgal
    March 4, 2009 at 6:41 PM

    Don’t forget Granville Island in Vancouver. A little touristy, but then all bustling food courts/markets are. The seafood there is gorgeous. And I love the pyramid stacks of cherries beautifully displayed at the produce stand, which somehow defy gravity.

  9. oysterculture
    March 4, 2009 at 6:44 PM

    Foodgal, Any place that has fresh cherries is on my list – I may have to add a page with favorite local markets. Thanks for reminding me of this one!

  10. oysterculture
    March 4, 2009 at 6:45 PM

    Guiltless – Sometimes conditions such as these are predetermined. We just have to roll with it, and judging by your blog, I’d say you’re doing very well. =)

  11. March 5, 2009 at 2:51 PM

    Ah Whole Foods in Austin…have you been to the one in NYC at the Time Warner center? Madness. And Harrods – I once found GBP90/lb mushrooms there. If only…

    But I have to say, I agree with you that there’s something just so enchanting about the natural, raw and perfect organized disorganization of markets in N. Africa and Asia. Marrakesh is just intoxicating. ANd in Bangkok Matt and I got lost wandering through a seafood market. I have never seen so many different types and sizes of clams in my life. One of the hightlights of the trip actually.

    Thanks for a good read that brought back memories.

  12. oysterculture
    March 5, 2009 at 5:32 PM

    Brendabeast, I did go to the WholeFoods in TWC, but I had someplace to go, so it was literally a whilwind visit, so it definitely deserves a second peak.

    I will always appreciate those markets becasue to my uninitiated eye, there is such a sense of chaos when in really its as you say perfect organized disorganization. Its a wonder to watch.

    I hate to admit this, but I much prefer markets to museums when I travel.

  13. giverecipe2009
    March 5, 2009 at 6:20 PM

    It’s so nice to see a picture of a spice shop in Istanbul. We have such spice shops in every city of Turkey, but Istanbul has a famous Carsi (bazaar) full of spice and dried fruit.

    Thank you again for this so informative post. I love to learn about different cultures. And don’t feel guilty for prefering markets to museums. They are as important as museums when learning a new culture.

  14. oysterculture
    March 6, 2009 at 4:08 PM

    Zerrin, you’ll have to recommend some of the spice shops that you like, I thought I’d put together a list with input from folks of good food shops to go to. I could use your help. Thanks for all the compliments I appreciate your support.

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