By Mimi Sheraton, New York Times
It is a given that no serious traveler would forgo visits to museums, cathedrals, castles, monuments and legendary streets. Yet food markets deserve equally high billing on a must-see list. For as inspiring as the more standard sights can be, they do not rival the ebullience of modern-day markets and their colorful links to the economy, customs and even dialects of a city.
In a world ever more homogenized, food markets afford visitors one of the few opportunities to glimpse locals going about one of their essential daily chores. The most dramatic of these sprawling, jumbled indoor or outdoor markets sell wholesale, generally between midnight and dawn, when one feels vaguely conspiratorial watching the alert trading action while much of the city sleeps. There's an instant spirit of camaraderie as strangers mingle among the lights and shadows, shouting, banging and clanging, inhaling whiffs of hot coffee and bracing alcohol that combine with scents of damp night air, gasoline, fish, spices, herbs and fruits that have so much more aroma elsewhere than they ever seem to at home.
Attending this living theater, one can assess the local economy by noting the quality and variety of foods available and compare prices to our own. One can observe how locals treat one another. Are sellers and buyers polite and trusting as they deal under intense pressure— the first to sell out highly perishable merchandise, the second to get the best value for family, shop or restaurant?
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