Monday, 11 March 2013

Such Inspiration can be found in Farmers' Markets Around The World

With Spring Break around the corner, I thought I'd post something about travelling and market culture...

A pineapple vendor in Bangkok prepares a bag of diced pineapple with a
wooden skewer for eating right there, on the spot.
A juice & tea stand in Thailand displays the fruit, such as very tiny lemons and
 bright pink dragon fruit that can be juiced into delectable drinks on site...
served not in a cup, but in a plastic bag with handles and a straw!
Everywhere we have travelled, we have encountered farmers’ markets. Some are little more than trucks pulled to the side of a road, or crates stacked in a dark alleyway. They serve very simple fare. Others have festival-like atmospheres and are the sites of lots of activity and organized family fun. Some literally take over roadways with a sense of vibrant, untamed chaos. And some have permanent stalls with neat corridors, concrete floors with roofs overhead and elaborate displays. 

Every market has its own flavor, its own mix of vendors and patrons, and its own sense of character and identity.
Seattle's Pike Place Market has a rooftop garden over its sign,
planted up with tulips and a wide variety of permanent
 vendors, like these fish mongers, inside.

Street vendors set up in the most innocuous places in Bangkok, sandwiched between parked cars or down crooked, dark and dingy back alleys. Though there are permanent stalls on the sidewalks, there are opportunistic, mobile ones too that take advantage of any available space, and of any of the changing, popular spots.
Yup! In the top left hand corner of this photo there are fish
flying over the market shoppers' heads.

In Thailand, at night, the markets come alive, taking over the streets, forcing 4 lane roadways to become congested, but vibrant, places of street market commerce, allowing only 3 wheeled tuk-tuks and motorcycles to pass through. Walking through the streets at night, after the heat of the day has dissipated and the daily torrential rains have washed everything clean, is a unique experience. It is after about 9pm that the city truly comes alive.
In the dark recesses of this basement market in Singapore,
you can see bundles of yard-long Asian green beans,
bundled up and on display at this stall
In this picture are plastic crates loaded to their brims with sugar cane,
wonderfully scented limes, intensely fragrant lemongrass
bundles, gigantic Habiscus flowers, green figs and red beets.

Sometimes it’s just not enough to see artfully displayed fish and seafood on pristine beds of crushed ice… the fish mongers at Seattle’s Pike Place Market have to hurl fish over your head, playing a slippery game of catch in the hallways of the market. That definitely adds a strange element of entertainment value to the experience!
Portland is known for its many terrific microbreweries. Rogue is one of them
and they are regular vendors at Portland's "Saturday Market" (which,
coincidently, runs Saturdays and Sundays down by the river). With their
very artistic labels, they make a wonderful display at their market stall.
And yes, you can purchase beer there and drink it on site.

In Singapore, basement markets in Chinatown are strictly utilitarian places to shop for fresh meat, poultry and produce, and yet, lit by harsh fluorescent light, they are beautiful in their own bare way. I love the way that foreign markets introduce you to strange and wonderful edible things like these chewy hibiscus flowers with a somewhat raisiny flavour (the burgundy things in the bin below), beans more than three feet long (folded and twisted and bound in elastics), and deep purple sugarcane stalks (the banded stalks below).

Brightly coloured spring tulips, crammed into buckets, form a
beautiful display at the Pike Place Market in Seattle.
An Egyptian vendor creates an amazingly balanced wall of fruits and
veggies at his stall in Cairo.
No matter where you go, there is such artistry in the way items are displayed…
  • in the arrangements of the fruits and vegetables in colourful triangular towers
  • in the scrunching together of buckets, filled to the brim with fresh cut spring flowers 
  • in the artful display of spices, poured into pyramids resting precariously in bowls
  • in the tantalizing racks of glittering wind catchers, their polished metal surfaces catching your eye as you saunter by
  • in the sheer volume of a barrel of crushed dried hot chilies in a farmers’ market in Chile
  • and in a row of microbrewery beer bottles, with creatively designed labels and catchy, fun names lined up on a counter. 
Whimsical wind chimes made of twisted, cut and reshaped cutlery
dangle from the frame of a vendor's tent in Portland.

Traveling to farmers markets wherever you go around the world always provides unique insights into the culture through which you are travelling, adventuring and vacationing.  

Gigantic baskets of fresh and crushed, dried hot chile peppers are waiting for
market shoppers in Santiago, Chile.
By going to local markets, you get to see things from the ground level... what a culture values, the things that are important for sustaining it, what it regards as beautiful or as delicious (no matter how extreme or strange it may seem to you), and what it sees as humorous and fun.

When vacationing, be it within Alberta, across North America or abroad, I encourage you to seek out the local farmers’ market and see what’s there. It is sure to be an enriching, tasty, lively, eye-opening experience!

What have you seen that you loved, that piqued your curiosity, or that surprised you in markets that you have experienced on your travels? 
Please share your experiences here. I'd love to travel some more, vicariously, through your comments....

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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

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