Visiting local markets is one of the best things you can do while traveling. Wet markets, neighborhood markets, fish markets—the list goes on. Getting to see where locals buy their groceries, the many varieties of every kind of food—a rainbow of fish, tiny, white eggplants, long green beans, 20 different types of rice—deepens your understanding of a new place. There is both a foreignness and a familiarity to these markets. They're so different to your own daily life, but the act of shopping for the very best ingredients to shape dinner for your family and friends is pervasive across so many cultures.
As magical as markets can be, it's even better to explore them with a local to get a real insider’s look at what these markets have to offer. Companies like Traveling Spoon pair travelers with local guides which makes it easy to get that behind-the-scenes experience at all the best markets. You can even learn how to cook some of the foods you find! Here are Traveling Spoon's top five markets off the eaten path—some known and some less known—and the guides who can show you around.
Originally built by the French during their rule over Hanoi, Dong Xuan abounds with kitchen supplies of every kind—from cleavers and knives of all shapes and sizes to barrels of beautiful Vietnamese foods like rice and chilis. For an insider visit, go with Hong who will take you on a hunt for the best produce to cook up (with a stop for some Vietnamese snacks). Shop for fresh catfish and local dill before returning to Hong’s home to enjoy her crispy, freshly-fried spring rolls and cha ca (Hanoian grilled fish will dill and turmeric).
2. Şirinevler Pazarı Market (Istanbul, Turkey)Şirinevler Pazarı is a small local market in an off-the-tourist track neighborhood of Istanbul, and walking through the market feels like a discovery of a well-kept secret from tourists. Peruse the bountiful piles of fresh figs, spices and cooked Turkish treats. Nuray and Ipek are a mother and daughter who will wander the markets with you and then bring you into their home where they serve heavenly homemade baklava and traditional Turkish coffee.By Stephanie Lawrence
3. Nishiki Market (Kyoto, Japan)The narrow street in central Kyoto that makes up Nishiki market easily makes the list of our top markets in the world. Each small store front along the street is a world unto itself. Taste furikake, the salty umami topping that is traditionally made of seaweed and tops many rice dishes, or explore the incredible yuba storefront that makes the lightest, most beautiful tofu skin, said to be the best in the world because of Kyoto’s unique water. For a truly insider glimpse into the market get Keiko to guide you; she insists on only visiting stores that have been run by at least three generations.By Stephanie Lawrence
4. On Nut Market (Bangkok, Thailand)Walk through On Nut Market and watch coconut milk being made fresh before your eyes, or shop for mouth-watering mangosteens in the summer months. If you visit with a local like Angsana, she will take you to her favorite vendors who all know her well before she takes you home and cooks you incredible pork satay (hers is made from a secret recipe that Angsana's mother finagled out of their village's best pork satay food vendor over 60 years ago).By Stephanie Lawrence
5. Sastri Nagar Market (Chennai, India)This traditional neighborhood market is really a locals-only spot: a collection of roadside stores and vendors where locals do their daily shopping for everything from regional vegetables to spices to coffee. If you go with local host Sundari she’ll take you to her local vendor where she gets her wheat milled and then will take you to the local temple in the market. By Stephanie Lawrence
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