I live to travel, and I travel to eat. That first anticipated bite of food that unveils an ingredient you’ve never had, a flavor you’ve never dreamed of or a dish you’ll crave for the rest of your days is the definitive travel experience, wherever you are — a mind-shattering gateway into a new and delicious dimension. It illuminates the world and its myriad of cultures and people in a way that no other single experience could. That’s why heading to an excellent food market, or even basing an entire trip around that type of excursion, is such a rewarding and necessary venture.
This is a comprehensive global list of the best food markets in the world, and we’re setting our gazes everywhere beyond the United States (with apologies to personal favorites such as Pike Place Market in Seattle, Union Market in Washington, D.C., Reading Market in Philadelphia, Lexington Market in Baltimore, Liberty Public Market in San Diego and scores of other domestic food havens). The only other rule of engagement was to include a single listing for a given city to help us cover as much ground as possible.
From historical markets with centuries of history to modern installations — and from those focused on produce and fresh ingredients to others where prepared-food vendors and restaurants lead the way — these are the best food markets to explore the world over.
Or Tor Kor Market, Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok’s Or Tor Kor Market, or OTK, is a sprawling indoor marketplace for fresh produce, chilies, herbs and seasonings, as well as seafood, meat and all types of snacks, goods and specialties. Then there’s an unrivaled collection of prepared food purveyors and stalls and a more formal food court, ready to turn your Thai dining dreams into reality. Satay skewers, grilled and fried meats and fish, sour sausages, stir-fried rice and noodles, curries, som tam, mango sticky rice and other sweets just scratch the surface of the vast selection.
La Boqueria, Barcelona, Spain
La Boqueria, or Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, has a history that dates back to the early 1200s. The modern market, in its current locale right off Las Ramblas, opened in 1840. Fresh fruit juices and produce invite passersby in with their bright colors and promises of refreshment. Within, an inner ring of fish and seafood purveyors is surrounded by stalls and vendors of all types, more than 200 in all, highlighted by, fear not, plenty of jamón and queso. That’s why you’re there, isn’t it? There are also about 10 sit-down bars and restaurants with in-demand seats; pounce if you find an opening.
Great Market Hall, Budapest, Hungry
Budapest’s Great Market Hall, or Central Market Hall, is an iconic structure that was built in 1897. It’s home to three floors to conquer: there are mushrooms, foraged items, pickles, signature spice shops with varieties of Hungarian paprika, fresh produce, seafood, meat, cheese and dairy, and even household items and souvenir shops. The top floor is where you can satiate your heartiest of cravings. Dig into plenty of langos and other Hungarian specialties, and consider pairing it with some Tokaji wine or palinka brandy.
Mercado San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mercado San Telmo was founded in 1897 and has been a national historic monument in Argentina since 2000. That doesn’t mean the market is all left to history, as it was recently renovated and remains thriving today. Fresh produce, coffee and pastries lead the charge, along with purveyors specializing in everything from Argentinean empanadas to burgers, sandwiches and steaks. The streets encompassing the wider district around the indoor market are loaded with restaurants to explore. Within the market, there are also antiques, crafts, art and assorted souvenirs.
Chandi Chowk, Delhi, India
Chandi Chowk, the sprawling, chaotic heart of Old Delhi, is something that must be experienced to be understood. There are alleys specializing in all types of household goods and daily items, along with gifts, crafts and souvenirs of every stripe. Spices, dried fruits and nuts, tea, lentils and beans, pickles and street food vendors are amid all that clamor. There are plenty of famed restaurants and food vendors as well. Fight through the crowds to make it to Paranthe Wali Gali, an alleyway lined with food vendors specializing in fried flat breads loaded with a sweeping assortment of sauces and accompaniments.
Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
The fragrant aromas of Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar are unforgettable. The market has been around for 350 years, and you can find an endless array of spices, herbs and seasonings, sauces, spice mixtures, Turkish delight and sweets, coffee, dried fruits and nuts, and more. You can’t ignore the Grand Bazaar either, one of the world’s largest and oldest markets — and one of the most visited tourist attractions of any type — with thousands of shops pulling in tens of millions of visitors per year across its 60-plus alleys. Though it’s not dedicated to food, there are cafes, tea shops, gourmet shops and restaurants to be found throughout the sprawling complex.
Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem, Israel
Machane Yehuda has been a home for local shops and vendors since the Ottoman period. Across several modern reinventions and overhauls, it has served as Jerusalem’s main shuk since the end of the 19th century. It’s now home to more than 250 purveyors that sell sweets, dried fruits and nuts, produce and fresh staples, dairy, and prepared foods. It’s also a thriving nighttime locale with bars, restaurants and live music and performances. Because you’re in Jerusalem visiting Machane Yehuda, you may as well also head to Tel Aviv and hit up its signature Carmel Market, or Shuk Ha’Carmel, which dates to 1920.
Time Out Market, Lisbon, Portugal
The Time Out Market Lisboa was founded in 2014 and has remained a must-visit ever since. It is split into two halves: the historic Mercado da Ribeira, a market with fresh produce, fish and meat, and the modern food hall with about three dozen restaurants and purveyors in addition to gourmet shops. The lineup is spearheaded by a handful of Portugal’s most well known chefs operating their own signature outlets, a concept which, in the western world, helped spearhead the rise of the modern, mega food hall. Portuguese croquetas, cheese, seafood, wine and the famous pasteis de nata, or egg tarts, are all on offer.
Borough Market, London, England
Borough Market has existed in some nearby form or fashion for a solid millennium or so. At its exact current site, it has a formal founding date of 1756 and underwent a modernization in recent decades to become the leading attraction it remains today. There are more than 100 stalls and shops spread across the market, with popular purveyors often having lengthy lines. Cheesemongers and gourmet shops line a central hub, along with bakeries, drinks, produce and gourmet goods, while full-service restaurants and bars account for the exterior. Certain corridors within are all about cooked dishes and quick bites from a global array of food stalls.
Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain
Mercado de San Miguel, housed in a renovated glass and iron building on the site of a onetime wholesale market dating to 1916, is Madrid’s magic bullet. Oh no, the restaurant you wanted to visit for dinner is booked? Your lunch stop is closed for siesta? You’re hungover and need a huge plate of huevos rotos — olive oil fried eggs dripping over a mound of french fries, topped with jamón? Mercado de San Miguel can do all of this and more. Spend a few hours wandering its three dozen or so stalls, glass of vermouth in hand, stopping for bites of Spanish cheese, croquetas, bocadillos, montaditos, charcuterie, pastries and more.
The Medina, Marrakech, Morocco
The Medina of Marrakech is a treasured, historical locale that will be on every visitor’s to-do list, even if you’re not as obsessed with eating local food as some of us are. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back nearly 1,000 years with a bustling central plaza lined with merchants, performers, vendors and stalls. Shop for produce, juices, olives and pickles, spices and herbs, and dried fruits and nuts during the day, and come back at night to be in the pulsing core of the city, smoke rising to the sky from dozens of restaurant tents serving up grilled fare and specialties like tagines and tangias. From this central square, main avenues branch off into uncountable, smaller back alleys and paths. Different areas specialize in particular types of shops with spices, herbal remedies and all manners of handmade crafts.
8 Ways to Eat Like a Local When TravelingTip: don’t trust every person’s opinion, even if they live there
Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne, Australia
Open since 1878 and spanning 17 acres, Queen Victoria Market has both history and size and is considered the largest open-air marketplace in the Southern Hemisphere. The Queen Vic has more than 600 stalls and shops with an emphasis on fresh produce and gourmet goods, as well as fish, meat and dairy. Then there are bakeries and cafes galore among about three dozen prepared food and drink vendors covering a full international assortment of specialty dishes. Several wineries and distilleries also operate their own shops and tasting rooms.
Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City is home to a number of entrancing local food markets, but the kingpin is Mercado de la Merced. Dried chilies and mounds of herbs and spices line narrow walkways along with produce and other staples. But there are also long strips of food stalls serving up tacos, pozole, tostados, quesadillas, pancita, menudo and just about anything you’d hope to find in such an enormous market. Try to find Tacos Los Gordos, a vendor specializing in enormous taco plates topped with grilled green onion sprigs and french fries. The Central de Abasto, meanwhile, is CDMX’s answer to Rungis Market outside of Paris (see below). Or in truth, maybe it’s vice-versa: Central de Abasto earns honors as the world’s largest wholesale market, even ahead of the famed French market.
Jean-Talon Market, Montreal, Canada
Jean-Talon Market in Montreal is regarded as one of the oldest remaining and largest open-air markets in North America. It began as a farmer’s market and retains an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. But today, there are also numerous restaurants and vendors along with butchers, cheese shops and gourmet stands. The market is open year round and during peak season is home to more than 300 vendors, with a surrounding ecosystem of famed shops including bakeries, cafes and cheesemongers.
Viktualienmarkt, Munich, Germany
The Viktualienmarkt is central Munich’s daily fresh market, and it’s become a leading attraction for hungry travelers. Thirsty ones, too, as it wouldn’t be Munich without a beer garden and plenty of liters of frothy ale to be had. The market has a history stretching back more than two centuries and today has more than 140 vendors. Prepared foods include sausages, pretzels and soups, along with fresh produce, meats and cheeses. Souvenirs and crafts are also for sale.
La Grande Epicerie de Paris, Paris, France
Situated on the first floor of famed Paris department store Le Bon Marché, La Grande Epicerie de Paris is a gourmet grocer turned modern culinary wonderland. Snag delicious souvenirs for all of your hungriest friends and family, or just stock up for an idyllic picnic along the Seine. When you’re hungry for more, head to the Marché des Enfants Rouges. Opened in 1615, the covered market is the oldest food market in Paris and remains a vibrant destination for locals and visitors alike. For an even greater contrast, visit Rungis Market, the wholesale market outside the city that replaced the famed Les Halles. The 570-acre facility has 13,000 daily workers and is one of the world’s largest wholesale food markets, providing the ingredients used each day by the city’s and country’s finest chefs and restaurants. You’re not going there to eat, more to observe the culinary cacophony, and you’ll need to sign up for a guided tour — likely first thing in the morning — in advance.
Mercato Centrale, Rome, Italy
Rome’s Mercato Centrale is a new, modern take on the Eternal City’s food markets. Located near Termini station, the market opened in 2016 and is focused on gourmet, prepared eats with restaurants and bars creating a convivial atmosphere for revelers. A city like Rome wouldn’t have just one epic food market, would it? Consider checking out the more old school approach by adding the Mercato Trionfale to your to-do list as well. With more than 270 stalls and vendors, it’s the largest in Rome and caters more to locals with fresh produce, cheese and pasta.
Gwangjang Market, Seoul, South Korea
Gwangjang Market, or Kwangjang, is a sprawling all-in-one marketplace with thousands of shops. There are clothing stores and traditional crafts, but it’s also regarded as a bustling hub of Korean food culture, with locals and tourists alike flocking to the market each day. Sample an endless variety of banchan, or try soy-marinated crabs, rice rolls, mung bean pancakes, kimchi dumplings and specialties from renowned vendors like knife-cut noodles and baked baffle sandwiches with rice cake buns. Sensational markets abound in Seoul. Be sure to stop into Namdaemun Market, which boasts its own lineup of thousands of stalls. It’s the oldest in the city, stretching back some six centuries.
Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, Singapore
I expect no greater backlash from this list than the selection of one particular hawker center among Singapore’s legion of legendary outposts. You know where to send the hate mail, and you won’t go wrong with any of Singapore’s storied food stall malls. I just happened to enjoy some excellent eating at Old Airport Road, with killer char siu at one spot and kaya toast at another. Delicacies like laksa, char kuay teow, roti and nasi lemak are available across the sprawling space with more than 150 hawkers. Of course, you won’t go to just one hawker center. Tiong Bahru, Maxwell Food Centre and Amoy Street Food Centre are a few more to keep you busy.
Raohe Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan
It’s hot and humid, and you’re hungry: something has to give. A night market will nurse your wounds, and in Taipei, the Raohe St. Night Market is the number one destination. Every variety of Taiwanese street food that you’ve been clamoring for can be found here. There are all kinds of fruits, sweets and skewers, along with boba tea, mushrooms, oyster omelets and stinky tofu available in abundance. But the main draw for most is the famous black pepper buns stuffed with pork.
St. Lawrence Market, Toronto, Canada
Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market opened in its current locale in 1902, which housed the prior Toronto City Hall. The two-story space counts more than 120 merchants, like fresh food purveyors, prepared food stalls, gourmet shops, supply stores, a gallery space and a cooking class. In addition to the main St. Lawrence Hall, the market also hosts a beloved Saturday farmer’s market. You’ll find a killer peameal (back bacon) sandwich here, so you can check that one off your list, and also scope out an international collection of stalls representative of Toronto’s diversity.
Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain
Valencia’s Central Market is a gigantic institution — with 1,200 stalls spread across more than 85,000 square feet, it’s one of the largest in Europe. Its original open-air market was on the same site as far back as 1839, while the existing, enclosed market (an Art Nouveau masterpiece of a structure) was completed in 1928. In addition to an unlimited selection of produce, beans, cheese, seafood and all the rest, there are about a dozen food stalls for dining and a dozen bakeries, as well as the market’s signature restaurant, Central Bar.
Tsukiji Market, Tokyo, Japan
While the inner Tsukiji market, home to the iconic early morning tuna auctions, has been moved to a new location, the actual Tsukiji Market and surrounding district, sometimes known as the outer market, is very much where you may remember it. There are hundreds of purveyors and vendors, along with scores of phenomenal sushi counters and restaurants. All the action is in the morning, so be sure to come early and come hungry. Or consider ending a raucous night of karaoke with a sushi nightcap at about 6 a.m., if you dare.
Rialto Market, Venice, Italy
Tides and tourists come and go in Venice. The Rialto Market remains — for more than 900 years and counting. Seasonal fruit and vegetables are the stars of the show, along with the incredible sights of daily catches in the adjacent fish market where the wares couldn’t be fresher or more locally sourced. The market closes by early afternoon, so it’s best to come in the morning.
Naschmarkt, Vienna, Austria
The Naschmarkt is Vienna’s prized historic food market. It dates back more than 500 years and today is home to more than 120 stands. Cheese, sausages, charcuterie and baklava are among the offerings, in addition to fresh produce, coffee, pastries and chocolate. There’s also a wide range of gourmet cooked food stalls ranging from traditional Viennese eats to a more international set of vendors.
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