mercado san juan

in thrall to the chilis



the daily shop

mercado san juan


chef’s market


Ok, I lied. After lazing around for two days I needed to get off my duff and do something, so I hijacked the chef from Paresa to take me on her morning rounds to the local market in neighboring Patong. And what a far cry from Siem Reap it was! The banzaan, or fresh market, is a contemporary two-story affair with specific sections for meat, seafood, vegetables, flowers, and a bizarre-looking selection of fruits. Everything is neatly presented – even the pigs hanging upside down are artistically arranged – and more importantly, nobody is scaling fish or beheading chickens in their bare feet. It was like Citarella, albeit with a more herbaceous, Asian flair.

black crab

half chicken

strange fruit

curry paste

super squid

sorting herbs & chilis



chaos and claustrophobia, or the daily shop


For sheer chaos and claustrophobia, it’s hard to beat the daily market in Siem Reap. (The smells, too, are something I’ll not soon forget.) Most of the meat and fish is killed and cleaned to order, so you know it’s all as fresh as it gets – if not exactly on par with Western standards of safe and sanitary. I left wondering what, if anything, might make these women – mostly barefoot in and among the blood and guts – squeamish.






a lumpy little mushroom

France’s biggest black truffle market takes over the town of Richerenches in Provence this weekend. A seductive delicacy – and quite possibly one of my favorite things on the planet – black truffles are an exotic treat due in part to their elusiveness and exorbitant price, but it’s the unmistakably musky, hypnotic scent that drives us gastronomes wild. (Although the erotic and healing properties of truffles are probably completely anecdotal, their singular reputation contributes to the continuing allure.) On November 17th the Brotherhood of the Black Truffle brings together trufficulteurs, restaurants, and fungus aficionados to revel in the season’s first winter truffles with demonstrations by talented truffle-hunting dogs, free tastings, and a giant truffle omelette. I can almost smell it across the Atlantic.


st. george’s market

Stop me if I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I can’t get over how things have changed. Today it’s St. George’s in central Belfast, where a Friday market has stood in one guise or another since 1604. I last wandered the late 19th-century red-brick structure maybe seven or eight years ago and was underwhelmed. The farm-to-table movement had yet to take firm root in Northern Ireland, so while the steel and glass interiors stood out as a well-preserved reminder of the great Age of Empire, the handful of sorry vegetable stalls and assorted tat sellers inside seemed remarkably out of time and place. What a difference a decade makes. Following a £4.5m refurbishment the market has become one of the most vibrant and colorful destinations this city has to offer. A raft of local producers trade in everything from Armagh beef, award-winning farmhouse cheeses, free range eggs from Limavady, venison, pheasant in season and organic vegetables from Culdrum and Millbrook Farms. The fish section alone contains 23 stalls and holds the reputation for being the leading retail fish market in Ireland. Plus, there’s live jazz and dozens of lunch options from freshly filled baps – the Belfast Bap is a floury sandwich roll and a source of local pride – and traditional French crepes to vegan Chana Masala and classic panini-style Cubans of roast pork, ham, and gherkins – dripping with swiss cheese. Dare I say this famously hermetic city seems to currently enjoy being just a bit worldly-wise?


new amsterdam market

I’m a bit late to Peck Slip but New Amsterdam Market at the site of the former Fulton Fish Market is an exciting addition to the burgeoning convergence of small-scale purveyors, growers and foragers scattered about the tri-state region. It doesn’t compare to the sprawling, wholesale-oriented Greenmarket in Union Square, but then it has no designs on filling a niche that’s already been filled. Instead it’s a reinvention of the Public Market, once a prevalent city institution: a lively assembly of both the raw and the cooked. Producers and (barely processed) products. Brought together under a single roof, a public square – or in this case an ignominious parking lot – it’s tantamount to the great English food halls. Or think of Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel and the Marche d’Aligre in Paris – the kind of market you visit with a list, as well as with the anticipation of bumping into friends and neighbors. It’s a convivial place where you can get your weekly stash of kimchi beef jerky, varietal cider and Brooklyn-made tempeh, watch April Bloomfield demonstrate how to filet a fish, then catch up over popcorn-topped ceviche and drinking vinegar. Writers and foodies will plug New Amsterdam as the city’s next great foodie destination but don’t believe the hype. It’s better than that. As soon as the tourist crowds disperse I suspect it will come into its own as the local we’ve been waiting for.


strange fruit at ya fuen market

Back in Hong Kong for a last look around before heading to the airport and home, the strangest fruit in this picture is probably the three sad apples at rear. Still, I’ve been wondering all day about what those pale clusters in the foreground could possibly be. They look like baby potatoes – growing like bunches of champagne grapes.


in the market for jade

To my amusement I’ve discovered in just a few short days that it’s common to think you’ve arrived at one of the city’s famous markets – and trust me, there are dozens of them – only to discover in short order that you’ve come up along the fringe. Today’s example: the jade market. After wandering a few streets scattered with merchants selling all sorts of jade objet in the Yau Mae Tei neighborhood, I figured I had visited what was an overhyped version of New York’s diamond district. Then I noticed a covered compound literally just across the street from where I was standing. It had a large sign out front that read Jade Market. Duh. (And not for the last time, might I add.) Inside were hundreds of stalls – plus an annex out the back and across a parallel street – selling jade trinkets, jewelry and tchotchkes of all kinds. This was a proper market – virtually a commodities exchange. Karen, above, a vendor, even took the time to teach me the difference between real semi precious jade and the various knockoff varieties of jade-colored glass and nephrite which are often passed off as the real thing. For one, true jade has a weight to it. Another good test is to lightly ding two pieces together: they should produce a clear high-pitched ring and not a metallic clang. In the history of Imperial Chinese art jade was comparable to gold and diamonds, used for the finest objects and furnishings. The rise of a moneyed middle class in China as of late has given the formerly flat market for many shades of jade a serious boost. For example, the creamy white jade known as “mutton fat” has seen a tenfold increase in value over the past decade. If you’ve never taken much notice of the gemstone this market is certainly a good place to gain an appreciation. Just be wary – especially if you’re thinking of spending substantially on something that can’t be authenticated. Inexpensive souvenirs are a safer bet – the only expertise you’ll need involves haggling.



shanghai surprise

Every street in Hong Kong presents its own special sensory overload. Stumbling onto Shanghai Street during a late morning amble proved no exception.



at the wet market

Fresh food – the fresher the better – is a basic tenet of Chinese cooking. For the majority of people that entails a daily visit to the wet market; so-called because much of the product is still wet, as it were: the produce is fresh out of the ground, the seafood is still alive. Graham Street on Hong Kong island is home to one of the oldest local wet markets – an assembly of small individual stalls selling most anything the daily cook might need. My timing turns out to be fortuitous, too.  In an act of urban renewal the entire area will soon be razed.


at the mercado

A rainy day brings it’s own simple joys, like a trip to the local market.  Aside from the dizzying display of bacalhao (dried salt cod) and hams prepared and preserved in every imaginable way, there was a bountiful selection of exotic fruit imported from the former Portuguese colony of Brazil. The carambola and kumquats were easy to recognize.  As for the mangosteen, well, the “mangustan” sign proved helpful.  But a scaly thing that looked liked an armadillo in hiding?  A spiky dinosaur egg the size of a beach ball?  There was nothing in my culinary phrasebook to help. Collectively, the display emitted a smell so fragrant it was borderline narcotic and I couldn’t resist the adventure of buying a softball-sized mystery fruit for later.  Once I got back to my hotel, however, my fruit’s distinctive odor – separated from the pack – became apparent.  I had chosen one of my favorites: passion fruit.


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