How to navigate a farmer's market
Long time readers of this site will know that I just love open-air markets. I make it a point to search out farmer's/food markets (marchés) wherever I go. It's not just about shopping for food, they are entertainment centers where you get to see colorful people as well as colorful food. I enjoy them as much as, or sometimes even more than, visiting restaurants when I'm traveling. Here are some tips on how to tackle a farmer's market, especially in Europe.
- Get there about 1 hour after it opens, and no later than 1 hour, preferably 2 hours, before it closes. If you get there too early they are still setting up, and a lot of stalls start packing up 30 minutes before the official closing time.
- ...unless you are going to a very popular market by car. In that case get there as early as you possibly can, to avoid getting into a fist fight over a parking space (or walking very long way from where you end up parking to the market).
- Wear comfortable shoes, warm clothing in the cool months, and a hat if it's hot and sunny.
- Bring along a cloth shopping bag or a sturdy backpack to put your purchases in. A bottle of water can be a good thing to have along too.
- When you first get there, don't get distracted by the first stall you run into. Raise your head and survey the whole market to see approximately how large the market is, and plan your movements accordingly.
- If you can, make an overview run around the market first to see which stalls you want to tackle.
- Touch the merchandise or not? This seems to differ on where you are. In Paris for instance you may get yelled at if you do; here in Zürich many of the stall holders will hand you a plastic bag so you can choose your own, and in Provence you often get a little basket into which you place your own hand-selected produce. The "When in Rome" principle applies here. However, do not squeeze soft fruit, then put it back. Ascertain the ripeness by smell.
- Take photos quickly and discreetly. Some stall owners frown when you take pics, while some will even pose for the camera. If someone seems obviously pissed off at you when you aim the lens at them, just shoot quickly and move along. (While some stores will stop you from taking photos, I've never had a market stall person do so.)
- As for the customers, a lot of people don't like it when you take photos of them without permission, especially old ladies and mothers with kids. Kids in particular - don't shoot them from the front unless you have permission from a parent. People are getting more paranoid about such things these days unfortunately.
- Try to resist the persuasive sales pitch. This is a trap I fall into all so often. Some of those stall holders are master salespeople, offering a stream of seductive language together with tempting samples. If you don't want it, just say no, smile and thank them and move on. This lady baker was so good, we ended up buying about three times more bread than we actually needed from her cute stall.
- Know what's in season and don't complain about the lack of asparagus in September, tomatoes in February, or pears in April. And if you see those things being sold out of season, don't buy them. Your taste buds will thank you.
- If you are concerned about buying local, look for the signs for country of origin. Markets primarily are for local residents so don't assume that they only have locally produced items. In France for instance you often see green beans from Kenya. Here in Switzerland a lot of stuff comes from France, Italy and Spain. In French locally produced things say "du Pays"; in German if it says"Eigene" or "Eigen Production", it means the stall holders produced it themselves.
- And finally, try not to buy more than you can actually eat within a reasonable time!