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Europe’s best food markets revealed!

To really understand any country, you must head to at least one of its food markets!

brunch Updated: Apr 15, 2018 00:40 IST
Rupali Dean
Rupali Dean
Hindustan Times
europe,european,food market
Torvehallerne in Copenhagen, Denmark, comprises two beautiful glass and steel market halls facing each other on opposite sides of a square(Rupali Dean)

Veteran travellers always say, ‘Go to the local market to understand the local food, crafts and culture’. I totally agree. Whenever I visit Europe, I make it a point to see where the food I eat comes from, and, with a little bit of luck, learn to cook it too.

Of course, it’s also frustrating. All that lovely produce, and no kitchen of my own to fill with it. But window-shopping gets me by. So does testing and tasting. And now, having visited several local markets around Europe, I know what it must be like to live in these cities.

Mother of all markets- Rungis @ Paris, France

When a gourmand friend suggests that I expand my food horizon, I plan a trip to Rungis on the outskirts of the city, where I intend to browse the world’s biggest wholesale market for fresh produce.

You have to visit Rungis with an authorised guide, unless you are a listed buyer or know one. When I arrive with Carole, my guide from La Route des Gourmets, at 5am, the market is well underway; in fact the stalls at the Fish Pavilion are almost ready to close. I visit it anyway, and spend most of my time trying to get out of the way of the workers.

Next, we head to the Tripe or Offal Pavilion, where I am bizarrely riveted by the animal body parts on display, and then to the Meat Pavilion, where you find everything from poultry to meat, from tiny animals to huge ones.

Of course, the Cheese Pavilion that comes next is the one I’m most attracted to, with its wheels of Gruyère and Comté. Then it’s dairy, then the fruit and vegetables, and then flowers, making the morning prettier as we walk. In fact, it’s so gorgeous that I completely forget that I am hungry and have been promised breakfast, which is slightly odd since I am starving.

Pretty is not the reason for the existence of this market: this is not a place meant to attract tourists. It’s a real functioning wholesale market for the hotels and restaurants of Paris, and overall, the look is more pristine than pretty.

Still, Rungis is an impressive place: a town in itself, every pavilion complete with street signs. So, when I eventually dig into breakfast (farm fresh eggs and multigrain bread), my mood is one of awe.

Reservations: www.rungisinternational.com/en/visitors/organise-your-visit

Foodie’s pilgrimage: La Boqueria @ Barcelona, Spain

La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain, is the emblematic covered market that has been around since the 1200s (Rupali Dean)

The best way to enjoy the Mercat de Sant Joseph de la Boqueria on Las Ramblas, the emblematic covered market that has been around since the 1200s, is with breakfast at one of the restaurants and bars.

The food is intriguingly simple and delicious. I begin with the crusty bread rubbed with raw tomato, drizzled with olive oil and topped with thin slices of ham and some tortilla de patatas, and pair it with a local wine. Next is a Spanish omelette, light, fluffy and stuffed with potatoes, an unpredicted vein of saline, and a hit of something fragrant.

Some of the vibrant stalls at La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain (Rupali Dean)

Of course, I try the tapas too. Popular culture is popular for a reason, and the tapas is amazing!

As I stroll along the stalls, I am impressed by the produce which runs the gamut from the famed Jamon Ibérico to cheeses, Spanish olives, chocolates, juices, nuts, cured meat, poultry, seafood and more. The Ibérico ham melts in my mouth; it has a mild flavour, and is near perfect. Strolling around the market, I realise that vendors at the back are less expensive than the ones in front, so clearly it’s best to hunt for the best deals, knowing that the best stalls will have the longest queues.

The main thing to know about this market is that it’s meant for tourists by and large. So, the restaurants and bars could be a wee bit more expensive. You can taste and buy, or not, depending on the depth of your ethics and pocket.

To know more, log on to: www.boqueria.barcelona/home

Out of the ordinary: Torvehallerne @ Copenhagen, Denmark

Torvehallerne offers everything from artisanal honey to Danish pastries, rhubarb juice and other bounty (Rupali Dean)

A ‘rickshaw’ to Copenhagen’s biggest food market located beside the Nørreport Station, takes us to two beautiful glass and steel market halls facing each other on opposite sides of a square, packed with more than 80 merchants selling the kind of produce that you wouldn’t find just anywhere: from organic sausage, and artisanal honey to Danish pastries, rhubarb juice and other bounty.

I begin by biting into a salted caramel macaron picked up from a stall called ‘Sweet Valentine’. It bursts with flavours and the cream ganache centre is divine. Wandering about, I fight clichés as I observe stunning produce, ingredients and food concepts.

The sun is worth celebrating so I lunch al fresco, eating a wrap made of egg white instead of dough bread from the ‘Palaeo’ stall. Palaeo food is food inspired by the diets of ancient humans, and the menu includes healthy food and organic freshly-squeezed juices. The speciality here is the Stone Age ‘Palaeo Bread’ made of mixed nuts and seeds.

Of course, I also dig into a thin crust pizza from Gorm’s and later, a duck confit sandwich from Ma Poule! Waiting for my order, I can see the duck crisping in a hot pan just behind the counter, and though this place is famous for its French delicacies, I reckon I could come back for that sandwich alone!

Naturally, I also have to try the elegantly decorated open faced sourdough-based rye bread sandwiches called smørrebrød, smeared with velvety butter and buried under toppings of one’s choice. Even though I am hopelessly full, I stop at Hallernes for a smørrebrød topped with curried herring, and one with roast belly of pork with red cabbage topping. Both are absolutely divine! And just when I think I am fully fed up, I spot Café Rosa. Dessert calls, and I have no regrets. This is one of the best banana cakes I have ever eaten!

To know more, log on to www.visitcopenhagen.com/copenhagen/gastronomy/torvehallerne

Other noteworthy food markets: Les Halles @ Lyon, France

Les Halles in Lyon, France has over 60 stands retailing innumerable gourmet delights (Rupali Dean)

I am in love with this food sanctuary associated with the legendary chef Paul Bocuse, father of nouvelle cuisine. The over 60 stands retailing innumerable gourmet delights leave me impressed. I also take a cooking lesson here, and later enjoy a meal of local produce with delicious French wine.

Cours Saleya @ Nice, France

This quaint little market running parallel to the sea in the heart of the old town, packed with history and culinary inspiration, is worth an entire morning and is best discovered on foot. Chez Theresa’s socca, a flatbread made of chickpea flour, olive oil, water, and salt soon becomes my favourite snack in Nice.

Mercado Central @ Valencia, Spain

Mercado Central in Valencia, Spain, is labelled as Europe’s largest covered market (Rupali Dean)

The market has an external area of over 8,000 square metres with over 1,000 selling posts, and is labelled as Europe’s largest covered market. I find a paella pan and bring it home.

The remarkable domed ceiling leaves me awe-inspired; the natural light coming through the high coloured window panels makes the produce look even more enchanting.

From HT Brunch, April 15, 2018

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First Published: Apr 14, 2018 23:06 IST