In Barcelona, Mercado de la Boqueria (www.boqueria.info) is recognized as one of the world’s most atmospheric and alluring food markets. Established around 1200 as a traveling outdoor trading post, La Boqueria, just off La Rambla, has it all within its iron-framed interiors. With some 200 independent traders selling everything from exotic fruits to still-moving fish from the nearby Mediterranean, it’s also great for breakfast, tapas, and classics like acorn-fed jamón. As described by its owners, La Boqueria is a “consortium/maelstrom” kept alive by its people. Along with the multi-generational traders, these include the chefs and sommeliers who offer culinary classes and workshops, some in English, with tastings included, at the Boqueria Food School.
From the Old World to the cutting edge, Barcelona’s new El Nacional (www.elnacionalbcn.com) opened in 2014, is an innovative gastronomic “macro-space” integrating four restaurant and four bar concept in an updated 1871 textile mill. Putting a unique twist on the open-market theme, the dining venues include La Braseria for grilled and a la plancha meats, while the bars serve beer and preserves, wine and cured meats, oysters and cocktails. Gourmands also have global bites and some of Barcelona’s best jamón in the food hall of El Corte Inglés (www.elcorteingles.eu) department store, the Spanish Macy’s.
Yet more culinary diversity beckons at Madrid’s reborn Mercado de San Miguel (www.mercadodesanmiguel.es). Built in 1916, this beaux arts treasure (also inspired by Les Halles) was rescued from long disrepair with an eco-conscious revitalization that opened in 2009. With more than 30 vendors selling fresh take-home produce, the expansive space, under its iron and wood roof, is filled with picnic tables for daytime lunching. In the evening, Mercado de San Miguel becomes a buzzing social hub with draws including sherry tastings with tapas and a Champagne and oyster bar.
Opened in 1907, Berlin’s Kaufhaus des Westens, or KaDeWe (www.kadewe.de), is the largest department store in continental Europe, and among the largest in the world.
Bombed during WWII, the massive structure was fully rebuilt in 1956, including the addition of a sixth-floor food hall. Forty years later, in 1996, it saw the addition of the windowed “winter garden” of small restaurants and stalls on the seventh floor. Covering two football fields, the volume of food here is staggering, encompassing well over 30,000 items from Germany, Europe, and beyond. It’s a real fest for carnivores: along with some 1,800 varieties of cheese and 400 types of bread, KaDeWe offers more than 1,500 types of meat and sausage.
Vienna’s magical appeal includes Julius Meinl Am Graben (www.meinlamgraben.at). In 1862, Meinl introduced roasted coffee to Austria, setting the stage for a global coffee and food empire now run by the fifth generation of his family. “Connoisseurs and gourmands” flock to this elegant three-story flagship in central Vienna for more than 17,000 delicacies from some 100 countries. Featuring one of the city’s best restaurants and a basement wine bar, it’s also a fabulous choice for gift baskets.
For residents of the new Markthal (www.markthalrotterdam.nl) in Rotterdam, buying food means simply popping downstairs to the world’s most sensational new indoor market. Opened in October 2014, the €175 million triumph, which took five years to build, combines an extended horseshoe of 228 rooftop apartments on nine floors floating above a cavernous food and restaurant space, below which sits four levels of underground parking with room for 1,200 cars.
Designed by “Superdutch” firm MVRDV, the food hall houses 100 fresh produce stands, 15 food shops and eight restaurants, plus bars. Dutch artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam wrapped the concave interior with their mega-mural “Horn of Plenty,” a mind-blowing display of giant fruits and vegetables symbolizing the produce sold at the market. Also featured are flowers and insects, in homage to 17th-century Dutch still life painters, and for extra-trippy effect, video projections of cornucopia endlessly cascading down from the heavens above. For a relative return to sanity, Rotter- dam’s largest weekly outdoor fresh food market is right next door.
Housed inside the industrial-chic update of a historic tram depot, Amsterdam’s giant De Foodhallen (www.foodhallen.nl) features food stalls, bars, outdoor seating, and gourmet food at joints such as The Rough Kitchen, Bulls and Dogs, and for Vietnamese street food, Viet View. Inspirations for the venue’s design included London’s Borough Market, Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel, and Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne (www.torvehallernekbh.dk).
Located in the heart of Scandinavia’s culinary capital, Torvehallerne is a welcoming food hall that houses 60-plus stands selling goods ranging from fresh fish and meat to gourmet chocolate and exotic spices. Among the more intriguing options is Palæo, serving food based on simple ingredients from the Stone Age.
Opened in 1888, Stockholm’s Östermalms Saluhall presents some 17 venerable vendors in an evocative time-capsule environment of immaculate wooden stalls and lunch counters. For smoked reindeer heart or moose salami, head to Fågel & Vilt, here since 1946, and for the freshest fish in town, Lisa Elmqvist, a fixture since 1926.
Seafood worshippers also have a temple at striking Feskekörka (www.feskekörka.se) in Gothenburg. Translated as “Fish Church,” this harborside Gothic-style building from 1874 practically swims with fresh fish, shellfish, and produce, which can be enjoyed at Gabriel restaurant and other small eateries inside.
Another harborside gem is Helsinki’s Vanha Kauppahalli (www.vanhakauppahalli.fi) or Old Market Hall. Located next to Kauppatori (Market Square), the city’s famed seasonal open-air market, this historic food hall has been in business since 1889.
For raw market action, no venue on Earth can match the spectacle of Toyko’s Tsukiji Market (www.tsukiji-market.or.jp). Formally known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, this historic wholesaler, with origins in the 16th century, carries more than 450 types of seafood. Also selling fruits and vegetables, “Fish City” is the world’s largest seafood distributor, processing several thousand tons of fish daily and supplying restaurants around the globe. If you can stomach it, the frenzied pre-dawn auction of giant tuna is open to the public. Otherwise, the outer market invites exploration of its maze of tiny streets and vendors.
With several outlets in its home base of Japan and also in Singapore, Taiwan, China, and, slated to open next year, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, the venerable Takashimaya (www.takashimaya.com.sg) department store chain is known for its huge basement food halls, or depachika.
At locations such as Tokyo’s Takashimaya Times Square, these vast subterranean emporia feature an eye-popping array of foods and produce. Fierce competition to win and keep vendor stalls means high quality across the board, including stellar service and expert staff on hand to answer questions. Speaking of competition, Takashimaya stores occasionally put on a food festival known as Aji Hyakusen (100 Selected Flavors), which typically inspires much sharp-elbowing among customers as they vie for samples and tastings.
Named for the water used to clean floors and maintain hygiene after the cut- ting of fish and washing of produce, Asian “wet markets” are made to measure for experiencing authentic local culture, and may also include a dry area for items such as herbs, spices, grain, beans, dried noodles, and dried seafood.
Singapore, generally regarded as Asia’s culinary capital with its rich mélange of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and English influences, features enticing wet markets such as the sprawling, 100-plus stall Maxwell Road Hawker Centre in the city’s Chinatown. Originally a fish and meat market opened in 1935, the venue was converted into an accessible and affordable food destination in 1986. Also in Chinatown, Kreta Ayer Wet Market is the place for exotic fare (frog porridge, anyone?) and casual eats served in its upstairs hawker center.
Part of the Tekka Centre, which includes a renowned hawker center serving great Indian, Chinese, and other ethnic food, Tekka Market is Singapore’s largest wet market, featuring some 284 vendor stalls. Dating to 1894, Lau Pa Sat (www.laupasat.biz) or the “Old Market” in the central business district features some 60 food stalls and seating for more than 2,500 people under its inviting green Victorian-era arched canopies.
Hong Kong is also deep in wet markets, including the popular Kowloon City Wet Market. Covering a square block, the three-story municipal building and its porthole windows is not especially inviting from the outside. Once inside, the scene erupts into a vivid tableau of furious fish, fresh butchery, and an eyeful of exotic fruits and vegetables. Boasting some 500 stalls on the first two levels, the top floor is a foodie haven. Along with Cantonese dishes, spicy Thai fare is a major draw, courtesy of Kowloon’s sizeable Thai population.
Thailand’s own dynamic market scene includes another international favorite, Bangkok’s Or Tor Kor Market. Originally an agricultural collective, this colorful, clean and well-organized center (pronounced “Aw Taw Kaw”) has evolved into one of the city’s leading upscale food cornucopias. Once favored by the late Samak Sundaravej, the celebrity chef who uniquely became prime minister of Thailand, Or Tor Kor features hundreds of vendors selling everything from fresh meats and seafood to prepared meals and snacks. It’s a feast for the eyes, and don’t miss the small food court, either, for authentic Thai fare such as pad thai and fried oyster pancakes. Across the street is the massive Chatuchak, or “J.J.”, considered one of the world’s largest outdoor markets.
The theme of fresh and plenty continues Down Under, where the Sydney Fish Market (www.sydneyfishmarket.com.au) is the largest seafood market in the Southern Hemisphere and second globally behind Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market for seafood variety. Established in 1989, the eco-focused market, which trades up to 100 species of sustainable Australian seafood every day, features six fish retailers, several restaurants and cafés, a bakery, a gourmet deli, a greengrocer, and more. Notably, the market is also home to Australia’s leading cooking school, the Sydney Seafood School. The striking venue instructs some 13,000 people of all skill levels each year across a diverse range of cuisines and cooking styles.
With additional branches in Adelaide and Melbourne, Sydney is also home to the upscale David Jones (www.davidjones.com.au) department store, offering gourmet dining and takeaway options in its Foodhall.
As Melbourne continues to assert itself as Australia’s culinary capital, the Queen Victoria Market (www.qvm.com.au) lives on as the largest and most intact of the city’s grand 19th-century markets. Known locally as “Vic Market” or “Queen Vic,” the two-block landmark, opened in 1878, has a roguish history that includes past lives as a cemetery and livestock market. Today, all the intrigue is in the feast of seafood, meats, cheeses, fruits, organics, and other goods sold in its splendid halls and sheds, several of which retain their original details and character.
Happy travels, and bon appétit!