EXPLORING LOCAL MARKETS
On the heels of a trip to my local farmer's market, armed with kettle corn, organic coffee, and pecan butter, I was inspired to write about the value of visiting markets when you travel. It is an easy way to get a new perspective and glimpse into daily life in a new destination. Even if they happen to be commercialized and tourist centric it’s still a nice way to spend a few hours, and it’s free, unless you are tempted to buy something of course. Looking through my photos, I’ve noticed that it’s a common occurrence for me. If there is a market to be found, I’m there, usually people watching, sometimes bartering, and trying and failing to take great photos. Low light combined with trying to be innocuous leads to blurry shots.
If buying local rather than from large retailers is important to you, then markets are the way to go. Small individually owned stalls are usually manned by the owner's themselves, and you can bet they are passionate about their wares. Striking up a conversation is easy if you are genuinely interested in their product. I rarely buy anything at these markets, but if I do it is usually food related; a fruit shake in Cusco, rose and lavender salt in Avignon, tea in Istanbul. Mostly it is just fun to poke around and observe the sights, on the off chance you might discover something wonderful. I actually ate my first waffle at a stall in Chiang Mai, Thailand. For 30 years I equated the waffle to an Eggo, and wasn’t interested. After tasting a homemade waffle, I was hooked. Every night I would visit the stall for my late night fix of banana waffles.
Beware though; some local markets can lead to sensory overload. Some places are lovely and orderly, while others are chaotic at best. Crowded aisles, extremely strong smells. questionable or nonexistent sanitary practices, loud noises, and colorful and eclectic wares. I try to go with a full belly, because an empty stomach combined with fishy smells leads to queasy. A quick drive by through the meat department is also necessary if you are sensitive to that sort of thing. Who knew that a stroll through a market could be such an adventure?
I'm pretty sure the food markets in Myanmar have mentally solidified me for any future market seeking quests. During a food-sourcing mission for a cooking class I was taking, two participants chose to leave because the markets were overwhelming. So sad because it ended up being the most delicious food I ate while in Southeast Asia, and that’s saying something. Myanmar’s marketplaces were the best and worst of what markets have to offer, and hold some of my most colorful memories of my time there. If I wasn’t visiting a temple, I was in a market. Food, clothes, books, Buddhas, and baskets each have their own corner. Being one of a few foreigners strolling the streets gave me the perfect perspective of Burmese daily life.
I would highly recommend seeking out the local farmer’s or handicraft market on your next vacation. They can introduce you to local foods, meet and chat with shop owners, or just give you a slice of local life. You may even discover a love for a popular Belgian dish in Southeast Asia (Really, why did no one tell me I was missing out on the waffle all of these years?!)