Markets are snapshots of local culture

As my friends and I plan for a trip to Italy and Spain this month, we’ve been perusing guidebooks and websites to create an itinerary, one that includes not only major ruins, monuments and museums but also hot spots for dining, nightlife and entertainment.

But as I browsed the fruit and vegetable stands at Detroit’s Eastern Market the other day, it occurred to me than none of us had mentioned checking out local food markets. These markets, I’ve long realized, not only offer a smorgasbord of regional treats, produce, meats and other treasures from the surrounding countryside, but also a glimpse into the local culture.

Wander from stall to stall and you’ll meet characters as colorful as the mountains of fruit and vegetables stacked everywhere. I’ve never forgotten the tall, scraggly bearded rabbi-turned-artist or the Yemeni pizza maker I encountered at markets in Israel. Or watching Jews, Muslims and Christians converge for daily provisions at Mahane Yehuda, the main market in Jerusalem. And whenever I stumble upon fresh-cut lavender, the fragrance immediately transports me back to Provence, where I passed through many village markets while hiking in the Luberons.

Cork’s English Market impressed with plenty of butchers, florists, farmers and fishermen, but the young man standing outside the cluster of buildings, strumming a guitar and singing Dylan’s “If Not For You,” created a soundtrack for that visit. Closer to home, markets in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, are remembered for tasty sauerkraut and root beer, made by Amish and Mennonites farmers. I’ve never had better.

The sights, sounds and smells of these markets linger long after the trip is over and you’ve forgotten details about this historic monument or that masterpiece.

I’m adding a market or two to our itinerary. My friends are in for a treat.

Greg Tasker
Greg Tasker is Detroit News Arts and Entertainment Editor and has been writing about travel for more than a decade. His travel stories have appeared in AAA Living, Frommer's Budget Travel, Scouting, AMC Outdoors, Vermont Life and Island Life.