Stephen Travels

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Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington

Top 5 Indoor Markets

Something specific will stir your senses the second you enter an indoor market. Perhaps it’s the aroma of freshly baked muffins, or the sound of a woodworker scraping the last strip of maple from a handcrafted cutting board, or the bright reds and yellows glowing in meat and cheese showcases. Depending on the size and scope of the market, you may be able to purchase everything from fresh lingonberries from a nearby farmer, to locally made soaps, to hand-carved chess sets or walking sticks, all under one roof. Always on the lookout to purchase something unique to the place I’m traveling through, I’ve done my fair share of scouring dozens of indoor markets around the world. These are my favorites.

#1 Pike Place Market (Seattle, Washington)

Pike Place Market, Seattle, WashingtonWhen the fishmonger pitched an entire halibut to his colleague 12 feet away for him to wrap up for a customer to take home, and the gathered audience applauded, I knew I was somewhere special. Although they’re the clear cynosure of Pike Place Market, the fish throwers aren’t the only attraction that lures 10 million tourists and locals alike per year to one of the city’s most popular destinations. Opened in 1907 along the Seattle waterfront, Pike Place is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States. The nine-acre national historic district is home to hundreds of local farmers and craftspeople, as well as dozens of specialty food stores and about 80 restaurants, who sell their products 362 days per year. Buskers along its arcades kept me entertained as I snacked my way through the market on a cinnamon donut, some red velvet fudge, and the best nectarine I’ve ever had. Past the original Starbucks, I delved into the labyrinthine interior, where I was able to find just about anything, from kimchee to comic books, vinyl records to truffle oil, artisanal cheese to antique maps, hand-sewn wallets to ink drawings of the Seattle skyline. No matter what time I went, crowds made maneuvering around a bit of a challenge, but I enjoyed every moment of the bustle inside the most interesting market I’ve ever visited.

#2 Harrods Food Hall (London, England)

Harrods Food Hall, London, EnglandWhen I entered Harrods for the first time, in November 1997, images of the recently deceased Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, as well as of the Spice Girls at the height of their popularity, seemed to be emblazoned on everything, from collectible dishes to pen barrels. The seductive Food Hall on the lower level of London’s signature — and Europe’s largest — department store, however, made a greater lasting impression. Wonderfully constructed and designed with columns, coffered ceilings, and ornate chandeliers, the massive Food Hall lured me in with irresistible aromas from the bakery and cheese sections and the enticing glass showcases filled with high-end foodstuffs from around the world. Food shopping here transcends your regular run to the convenient grocery store; at Harrods, it’s an event. From smoked salmon pillows to Mediterranean olives to rhubarb and custard brûlée, continental sausages to cous cous salads to Thai duck with red curry, white chocolate chip and pecan cookies to steak and parsnip pies, the Food Hall vends every basic culinary ingredient or elaborate concoction you can imagine. Prices were high, even back then, when I wasn’t flush with pounds and credit, and I wasn’t about to start roasting some seasonal lamb legs in my hotel room, so I settled for easy takeaway snacks — a wedge of Isle of Mull cheddar, lemon biscotti, and a slice of decadent chocolate cake. Even if you just completed a seven-course meal right before arriving here, the visual feast you’ll be treated to will immediately make you feel hungry all over again.

#3 Bolhão Market (Porto, Portugal)

Bolhão Market, Porto, PortugalThe huge Mercado do Bolhão, located in Porto’s city center, goes way back to 1839, but its current incarnation is housed within a wonderful Beaux Arts building built in 1914, complete with rounded corners, domes, and classical sculpture. It derives its name from when the old market here included a small creek which had an air bubble (a bolha). Now reopened after several years of renovations, it’s a bustling destination for locals and tourists alike. The bi-level market includes more than 80 stalls of endless temptations. If you’re preparing a meal, this is the place to come to buy fresh meats, fish, cheeses, olives, breads, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, including the most perfect-looking mushrooms I’ve ever seen. If you’re hear for a snack, there’s a variety of prepared foods and drinks to choose from, including wonderfully refreshing lime-ginger-strawberry slushies. And if you want to pick up something to take home, you’ll find an admirable selection of Portuguese chocolate, honey, sea salt, and that national favorite, sardines. This delightfully colorful market stirs every one of your senses, and you’ll love meandering around the stalls and supporting local and family-owned business that have been trading here for generations.

#4 Östermalms Saluhall (Stockholm, Sweden)

Ostermalms Saluhall, Stockholm, SwedenAfter a morning visit to the Army Museum and the Hedvig Eleonora Kyrka in the Swedish capital, I felt a bit peckish, so I was delighted to stumble upon the Östermalms Saluhall a couple of blocks away. Opened in 1888, Stockholm’s historic food hall, with its brick towers and pillars, and glass roof — a castle-cum-greenhouse — presents a striking façade to the Östermalmstorg it fronts. Inside, blue and yellow Swedish flags hang above the handsome carved-wood stalls laid out underneath the cast iron columns and ceiling braces. Nearly 20 family-run traders serve up high-quality ingredients, from fish just hauled from the sea to wheels of fragrant cheese to savory cured meats, as well as prepared foods to take with you after you’ve roamed around and completed your food shopping experience. A few restaurants invite you to linger over a longer meal, but you can also just pop into one of the cafés for a fika and savor the atmosphere and aromas all around you.

#5 Mercado Artesanal (Salta, Argentina)

Mercado Artesanal, Salta, ArgentinaThe taxi from Plaza 9 de Julio in the heart of Salta to the Mercado Artesanal on Avenida San Martin, two miles away, cost next to nothing, so I had plenty of pesos to spend at the artisan market. Housed in a colonial-style estate with whitewashed lime walls from the mid-1800s — complete with arched arcades surrounding a peaceful courtyard of brick paths, terracotta flowerpots, greenery, and black cast-iron lanterns — Argentina’s oldest crafts market, started in 1968, sells terrific handmade local arts at exceptionally attractive prices. A certificate of authenticity guaranteeing the quality and origin of craftsmanship accompanied my purchases, each one revealing the techniques that local artisans have been practicing for centuries. Silver jewelry, hats, vibrantly colorful ponchos and alpaca scarves, and hand-carved wooden toys, Nativity scenes, and musical instruments line the shelves and cabinets within the market. An on-site café can replenish you with an empanada or alfajore (a sweet cookie sandwich with a caramel filling) before continuing on your quest for that perfect purchase, whether it’s a lovingly crafted piece of pottery or a set of hand-carved gourds for drinking yerba mate tea.

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