One of the greatest joys of living in Italy is a weekly, bi-weekly or even daily visit to the market. It’s here where venders and shoppers alike come from all over the town and outskirts to meet, catchup, do business or simply pass the time of day. It doesn’t matter what country or city you happen to find yourself in, you are never a stranger at a market.
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During a long visit to Rome Enzo and I would take my Mum to the nearest street market, and we didn’t have to walk far to find one. Many of the markets in Rome are set up 6 days of the week and are surprisingly permanent structures along the wide pavements outside of shops and stores. The butcher, baker, deli and fish monger often have cold counters for displaying their wares and you quickly forget all about the bright lights of a large supermarket. Everything you need is available right here on the street: fish, bread, shampoo, shoes, luggage and even a cafe in the market we frequented.
In Rome, it was the call of fresh Pinolis and coffee that drew my mother to the market. We would sit and watch the world go by and wonder when we would ever get an opportunity to eat the bag full of fresh biscotti she bought every day. Or marvel at the capacity that Enzo had for eating a whole bunch of fresh grapes from Monday through to Saturday.
These day’s it’s the general hustle, bustle and sense of belonging that encourages us to gather up copious amounts of plastic bags and loose change for an excurtion to the market.
There are a few rules you may wish to bare in mind when shopping at the street markets in Italy. It is very tempting to give those grapes a little pinch, or to run an apple, peach, pear, or potato through your fingers while checking for who knows what. However, in Italy the rule of thumb is to touch nothing and to point at what you need.
If you visit the markets regularly the vender will eventually get to know you and you them. In this way you develop an understanding and it is rare to receive produce that are less than a very high standard. They often throw in a little extra after weighing anyway, so you might just as well go with the flow. Having covered the rule on touching the goods, you must also learn to ignore the cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
There is a lot written about the Mediterranean diet which isn’t a diet at all but a way of life. Gathering fresh products from your garden, freshly baked bread from your favoured bakery and collecting your fruit, vegetables, meat and fish from the local growers and gathers, is also a large part of any Mediterranean-style diet.
Enzo and I just love the whole market experience and often you meet the nicest people as you banter and barter for this and that. So if you need to know where we might be on any given Thursday, it’s probably just down the road at the huge market in Formia. Maybe we’ll meet you there and remember to take lots of loose change – you never know what might catch your eye.