Whether traveling domestically or internationally, I go to farmer’s markets to feel the pulse of the region. There I can begin to understand the local people, indigenous crops, handcrafts, economy, and pace of daily life.
Hong Kong markets were a cacophony of unfamiliar sounds, smells and products, which whirred with crowds that carried me along. The large street markets that stretched on for blocks in Chiang Mai, Thailand were an amazing experience. One can purchase everything from live frogs to tiny peppers packed with heat or dried fish by the barrelful. There is even an entire market devoted entirely to bananas. However, I discovered I much preferred the small markets in the northern rural areas of Thailand where I communicated with farmers, fishermen and artisans in a pantomime exchange, as they offered me food to taste or used gestures to convey information about their wares. I tasted everything that was offered.
When an English-speaking man strongly urged me not to eat the chunk of greenish gray gelatinous stuff handed to me by the fish lady, I thanked her graciously, pretended to take the tiniest of “no-thank-you-bites” and heeded his advice. I once even witnessed a flash mob dance through a market in Frankfurt.
There is no need to leave your hometown to take a veritable field trip for your senses. Local farmers markets are one of my favorite simple pleasures and I try to go weekly. Fruits and vegetables remain in the field until ripe. Colors are more vibrant. Grapes taste grapier. Freshly harvested herbs and spices have a sensual, earthy quality that is traded for the convenience of dried grocery store herbs.
I buy handmade pasta, breads, cheeses and juices as well as local seasonal produce, flowers and honey. I like to be proactive and know where my food comes from, that it is sustainably farmed and is organic.
Farmer’s markets broaden my culinary horizons as well. In Maine I bought fiddleheads at a small market from the woman who picked them. She happily taught me how to prepare them in her favorite manner.
Ojai California’s market has an amazing fromagère who produces the best lemon quark I have ever tasted… Okay, it is the only lemon quark I have ever tasted but it is, in fact, stupendous!
When I asked about watermelon radishes at a market two miles from my home, the farmer was only too happy to cut one in half, revealing a lovely pink sunburst inside, and shared several recipes as we munched the crisp treat. His son said that his favorite way to eat them is roasted, which I discovered is also my family’s favorite as well. The caramelization on the outside is a wonderful contrast to the savory fuchsia middle.
If you too strive to be a traveler, not a tourist, and want to eat like locals, don’t only dine in restaurants. Visit the local markets as well.
About the Author: Julie Terrill
Julie Terrill is a photographer and writer with a passion for travel. For ten years, she’s told stories of empowerment through the lens of her camera in an array of unique landscapes, environments, and projects – from a shelter for children rescued from trafficking in Thailand to Faces of Courage, complimentary portrait sessions she offers to cancer patients in her community. She is a photographer and facilitator at Beautiful You and Soul Restoration retreats.
Connect with her at: JMTerrillImages.com