Anywhere I go, one of my favorite places to visit are the local markets. They burst with colors and vitality, they are noisy, sometimes messy, confusing and genuine. In a nutshell, they reveal so much of their society that I believe they are often, wrongly, underrated.
Here are some of the local markets I’ve enjoyed visiting the most, that helped me grasp the intimate aspects of their country, impossible to perceive in shopping malls or in tourist spots.
Shanghai, animal and flowers markets
One of the biggest cities in China, Shanghai has a huge range of local markets. From flower to food, to animal to antiques, possibly in every corner of the city you can find the community’s way of displaying, trading, selling, and haggling, of course.
I loved ambling about the birds and insects market, a little frightened when passing by the insects’ stalls as I tried not to think I could find some cricket or cockroach on my way.
On metro Line 10, close to Longbai Xincun stop, there is a big and very beautiful flower market, where my flatmate and I bought plants, flowers, two fish and two lovely water turtles. The Hongqiao flower market offers a great range of types and colors, any kind of flower, plant and bonsai are widely available. I was mesmerized by the orchids’ shop, so many pots and shades of what are among my favorite flowers.
In Shanghai I recently acquired the habit of shopping for fruits and veggies in the local market of my neighborhood, mainly because I finally found out its exact location. I used to buy my grocery in much less colorful Carrefour, but now, apart from cheaper prices and higher quality, every time I go I sense how much the city is home to Chinese from all the provinces, each of them bringing their own language as well as their own (sometimes for me inaccessible) accent when speaking official Mandarin.
I think in Shanghai, nowhere like in its local markets it’s possible to feel the diversity the city holds, enriched by the presence of all 56 ethnic groups that populate China’s mainland.
Abu Dhabi, carpet and fish markets
In Abu Dhabi I have visited the carpet and the fish markets, one beside the other, close to the port. Convenient location especially for the carpet traders, most of the times foreigners sailing from other Middle Eastern countries.
I went to the carpet market because my friend was looking for a nice carpet for his new house, and that was the best place to find great rugs with the unique possibility to bargain the price. I wasn’t living in China yet, so I was totally new to the phenomenon of price haggling, but to be honest, even if I was already an expert, I couldn’t have helped my friend since the whole negotiation (that ended up with no deal) happened in the loudest Arabic I had ever heard.
As a great example of solidarity, we saw that when we changed shop looking for the same carpet at a lower price, none of the other traders offered a better negotiation than the first one. From the moment we entered his shop, we were his customers.
I don’t know where our swarthy carpet seller came from, but he certainly held a very strong personality. I imagined him traveling throughout the desert on his way to glitzy Abu Dhabi. He did have the air of belonging to a nomadic clan, so between listening to his obscure arguments and looking at his beard, I was completely lost in thoughts involving desert, camels, tents and oasis.
After getting livid for not completing the deal, my friend felt like ordering fresh fish for dinner, so we crossed the road and headed to the fish market. Mainly Indian-run, in this market I saw some of the weirdest and most mysterious creatures coming from the abyss (again, before getting to China).
This market was divided in three sectors: the area where they sell fresh products, the one where they clean, cut and prepare for cooking the same products just sold, and the place where they cook them according to customers’ instructions.
After going through these three steps and leaving your fish to the cooking shops, you can carry on with your daily activities and go back to pick up your dinner in the evening on your way back home.
Abu Dhabi fish market is very clean, and despite what they are selling, by no means smelly. Some of the creatures on sale are a little creepy, and to vegetarians or animal lovers might look a bit upsetting, but there, like in all local markets, it’s possible to experience some of the hidden aspects of today’s Emirates society, not all flashy and loud, but authentic and genuine.
Jodhpur, Sardar Market at the foot of the clock tower
My first time in India was devoted to visiting the region of the Rajasthan, and Jodhpur was where I could take some pictures of a local market in which they were selling just about everything.
In the very city center, where all seemingly unfinished lanes join together in the main square, at the foot of the town’s imposing clock tower, lies Sardar Market, a street bazaar where anything from exquisitely Rajasthani style clothes, to embroidered leather shoes, to jewellery, handicrafts, fruits and veggies, is sold.
Every morning, this is the liveliest part of the city, where citizens go for shopping or just pass by on their way to school, work or any daily activity, both on foot or on Indian typical tuk-tuk that I think every tourist should experience at least once.
A genuine sample of humanity is to be found in Sardar Market, where Jodhpur slowly wakes up and faces a new day. Sounds, voices, colors, flavors, smells and spices are the ingredients for this unique experience of real rural India.
Cavaillon, lavender, olives and French grandeur
The French region of Provence is very popular for its local markets, every town has one, in tourist offices it’s even possible to find a calendar of where and when they take place.
From Cavaillon, the main town of the district, to L’Isle sur la Sorgue, to Lacoste, to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, every day of the week townspeople and citizens love spending their time in their markets.
I visited the one in Cavaillon, that takes place every Monday, spread out along the main street Cours Bournissac and side alleys, where locals and tourists alike share a seductive way of shopping in typical French style.
The smell of freshly made bread dominates the scenario and attracts customers from the early hours, totally motivated to buy also the tasty tapenade, Provençal delicacy consisting of finely chopped olives, anchovies, capers and olive oil.
This market is the perfect place to find shoes, clothes, swimwear during summer months, and jewellery at affordable prices, but it’s also an invaluable selling point for all the most delicious local products, such as lavender honey, spices, French cheeses best eaten with the irreplaceable baguette, and olives in every sauce.
The sellers boast their attitude redolent of a die-hard French grandeur, inevitably making it for lively start of the week with style.