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Markets around the world

February 8, 2014 Corporate No Comments Email Email

Tourists often flock to markets of various descriptions for a full immersion in undiluted local popular culture.

They tickle the five senses, and have something for everyone, invariably including food and, especially, new treats to taste, plus unbelievable finds to bring and brag about back home, a dose of pandemonium, and great photo ops here and there!

Markets galore

They may be called flea markets, fairs, bazaars, souks or simply markets, but there’s something for everyone in each one, and there are plenty of them around the world. Some open daily, others come around every week or every year, and they all draw a sundry array of regulars as well as keen andcurious tourists.

Fairs, which generally take place once a year, have been around since Ancient Greece: they had them in Delphos and Délos, for instance. But they saw their heyday in medieval Europe. France’s Foires de Champagne were particularly famed: Flemings and Italians would converge on Troyes, Provins and Lagny-sur-Marne to trade European hangings for Oriental spices, which no doubt came from the souks and bazaars slightly further afield, around the Mediterranean coastline.

The words “souk” and “bazaar” both mean “market”. “Bazaar”, however, is originally Persian and “souk” Arabic. That is why North Africans typically talk about souks, and people in the Near and Middle East shop in bazaars. The fact that bazaars usually sell new goods and souks often sell secondhand wares may be another difference. Or perhaps the fact that first are often outdoors and the second indoors defines them? Unless it’s exactly the opposite? So, yes, if you’re still following, you will have seen that you have to lose yourself to find yourself!

And what do flea markets sell? For one, not fresh produce. Flea markets, in western countries are like garage sales but permanent. Their peculiar name, Frenchman Albert Lafarge contends, refers to the pesky little parasites infesting the upholstery that dealers peddled near Paris’ Porte de Clignancourt. Unsavory though the name sounds, vintage is in vogue and that flea market just north of Paris—Les Puces (literally, “the fleas”)—and other brocantes (garage sales) are among the finest in their trade!

Living la vida local

Talking about vogues, today’s tourists want au-then-ti-ci-ty: local traditions, handmade crafts and homemade treats from locally grown produce, i.e., in a nutshell, the real thing! In that sense, going to a market is more than going on a buying spree: people want a genuine cultural experience. They may need to circumvent the tourist traps but that’s part of the fun… And savvy travelers can shop till they drop!

Marrakech’s souks are among the world’s largest.  Every store and atelier skirting the Medina’s sinuous alleys in the old part of town is an Ali Baba’s cave for tourist. And, when you find that treasure you’ve been looking for, whatever you do, never ever pay whatever the shopkeeper asks for: he would take that as an affront. Custom dictates that haggling is required, every time!  And that is an art, or agame, that tourists soon start enjoying.

It’s the same in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar: bargaining is mandatory! That’s why you will not see many price tags. However, in the old bazaar, which sells the most luxurious goods, the prices are what they are and chances are that even the most endearing smile will probably not get you a discount! But one of the 4,400 boutiques  in this gargantuan covered market is bound to have that great keepsake you are hunting for—if nothing else to brag about getting it for half the price.

Over in London, Camden Town flea market is brimming with fun stunners for anyone who is unfamiliar with the underground scene in England’s capital. You can’t miss the skulls, studded wristbands, black leatherwear and tattoos embodying punk and gothic culture. And, if you’re keener on hippie culture, the bright colors adorning the façades, farfetched sunglasses and nonconformist messages on T-shirts in shop windows will thrill and chill you.

The Guelaguetza  runs for a week every July, in Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico. That is the perfect opportunity to visit this market dating back to pre-Columbian days in the center of a city that has been listed UNESCO World Heritage since 1987. Guelaguetza is Zapotec for “cooperation”, “sharing” or “offering”: so, whatever you do, never decline a delectable “chapulín” a stallholder will probably offer you. “Did you say ‘chapulín’?” I hear you say. Yes, one of those well-known dried grasshoppers, marinated in lemon juice for three days.  You can take the locals’ word for it: they are scrumptious. Otherwise, chocolate is another local specialty—but a much more dangerous one if you are counting calories.

Discerning epicureans will no doubt be intrigued by the “foires grasses” in Brive-la-Gaillarde, in Corrèze, France. This fair is named after the goose and duck foie gras on sale in winter, to elate the French during the year-end season. Well-known French songwriter Georges Brassens sang about catfights over bundles of onions in that market thus: “Au marché de Brive-la-Gaillarde, À propos de bottes d’oignons, Quelques douzaines de gaillardes Se crêpaient un jour le chignon.” And the wares are still well worth the ride today!

Unbelievable markets

The end of the year also brings its contingent of Christmas markets: today, Moscow (Russia), Douala (Cameroon) and Oslo (Norway) host and boast these markets. But the first Christmas markets, back in the 14th century, appeared in the land that we now know as Germany. Today, the “Weihnachtsmarkt” in Dresden, Stuttgart and Cologne, which draw 2 million to 4 million visitors a year , are particularly remarkable. The chalets in the backdrop and ubiquitous lights create a spellbinding atmosphere that enthralls children as much as grown-ups. They are typically overflowing with tasty hot chocolate, endless displays of delicacies, local crafts, and Santa Claus overhead!

Right near Lomé, the capital of Togo, in West Africa, you will find one of the most striking markets: Akodésséwa market or, as it is commonly known, the fetish market or “head market”. Why? Quite simply because the wares on sale include crocodile, bird and snake heads! It is a voodoo market, and many a healer refers his or her patients there for remedies. Tourists, however, will find plenty of statuettes to bring back as souvenirs.

Tsukiji market in Tokyo is just as amazing, and slightly less scary—but only just: it is the world’s largest fish market and the tuna on show are huge enough to make large sharks seem almost friendly. The auction starts very early, at dawn, and the brouhaha is deafening. Mongers buy 3,000 tons of fish and shellfish, for about US$18 million, every day . This temple to the sea will probably move out of Japan’s capital in 2016, to more modern purpose-designed premises, 2.3 kilometers from where it stands today.

About 4,600 kilometers from there, near Bangkok (Thailand), you will find the floating markets. Several of the stores are indeed boats called “sampans”, which showcase the goods. On some of them, cooks also prepare treats that tourists can enjoy in nearby restaurants. A few of these markets—Damnoen Saduak and Ton Kem, for example—have become tourist attractions in their own right, but nonetheless capture the spirit of yesteryear Bangkok and the bygone days when people travelled on canals more often than on footpaths.

And, while we’re at it, whatever you do, don’t miss the Stellenbosch Slow Food Market near Cape Town, South Africa. Award-winning produce farmers will fill your basket with victuals boasting certificates attesting that they are “local”, in the purest Slow Food tradition! And you are a short walk away from Treasury Market, a twin market showcasing designer vintage goods, all tastefully handpicked or handmade by local craftspeople.

And that is this year’s par-excellence destination: Cape Town is the World Design Capital in 2014!

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