I love markets, be it a local one in France, England or Mexico. The fish market in Palma, Majorca is wonderful as is the main market in Barcelonaor Florence. The weekly market in Condesa, Mexico City is a riot of colour and flavours, everything can be tasted before buying and if you are to lazy to chop or grate your own vegetables for a stir fry, then these too are readily available.
One of the best markets that I have been to is in southern Yunnan, in China. Here the ethnic mix is Han Chinese long with Chinese ethnic minorities, many of whom are also ethnic Burmese. The women in the market place, traditionally have painted faces and are very beautiful. Whereever I travel, I always make a point of visiting the markets, I feel they give a true reflection of life for the real people who live there. Case in point is Cuba. When the Russians left Cuba, the average Cuban lost over a third of his body weight, because the local economy could not produce enough food and funnily enough, Cubans do not eat fish, as most of it is exported. Consequently the food on offer in the markets was indeed of a very poor quality.
London on the other hand, has a multitude of markets, many of them ethnically biased, depending on the neighbourhood . The North End road, in west London is predominately African, whilst Church Street Market , just north of the Marble Arch is mostly Middle eastern. Borough Market near London Bridge station is the complete opposite, it is the weekend Yuppies paradise.
If I need upmarket good quality produce I will go to Borough Market. Never go on a Saturday, it is unbelievably crowded, and is a real food fest, people everywhere eating. If I want more local, in season produce, then I go to Church Street and jostle with the shrouded middle eastern ladies. Here too are some eateries, but are not of the Foodie variety, more the local ethnic foods.
For an interesting exercise, I have compared some prices for cheese. I bought in France some local cheese, called Abondance ( I love the name) and it makes the most delicious Cheese tarte ( quiche type of tart but heavy on the cheese), in France I paid about £13, per kilo, in Borough Msrket, it was £24, so almost double BUT in an up market cheese shop ( La Fromagerie, in Marylebone) it was a whopping £32, so although Borough is not a cheap venue for shopping it is certainly cheaper than a specialist cheese shop.
We also visit Billinsgate, which is in Docklands, this is the main fish market not only for London but for the UK. It opens about 3 or 4 am, I tend to go on. Saturday at about 7 am, there will be fewer people there and a few fewer traders, but nonetheless it is well worthwhile, not only in terms of price but certainly in quality. The market inspector, checks each stall daily to check the quality of the wares on sale.If you know nothing about fish, then it could be worth your while to take a class at the Billinsgate Seafood Training School. Here they will take you on a tour of the market, choose some fish, go upstairs to school and learn how to prepare various types of fish and then cook them.
Another stop on our market tour is to Smithfield market. This again is a wholesale market but this time for meat. The best buys are certainly on ribeye steaks and filet of beef.
And finally the last of my regular stops , is the New Covent Garden, this is for plants and flowers ( and all related items ) in the first half and in the second is the wholesale fruit and vegetables section.i have to admit to not having been in the fruit and veg section, but about three times a year I buy plants for my terrace in the plant section. Where else do you think the garden shops and florists buy their wares? Which brings me on to Columbia Road. Nothing to do on a Sunday morning, then a visit to Columbia Road is a must! It is the Sunday morning version of Brough Market, but for plants and flowers and yes, you have guessed it, food!