Visiting local markets when traveling is one of the best things you can do to deepen your understanding of a new destination. To truly get a sense of these bustling places—regardless of whether they feel foreign or familiar—it’s best to explore them with a local. Companies like Traveling Spoon pair travelers with local guides, making it easier to get a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s top markets. On these tours, you can even learn how to cook some of the foods you find! Here are Traveling Spoon’s top five markets to explore off the beaten path, and the hosts who can show you around.
1. Dong Xuan Market (Hanoi, Vietnam)
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.
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.
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 Jekky, she will take you to her favorite vendors who all know her well before she takes you home and cooks you her signature dish: fried chicken covered in mushroom powder, red chili paste, and chopped kaffir lime leaves.
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.