The Internet gives us the ability to connect with like-minded people around the world. Thanks to social media networks, I’ve met many market enthusiasts and have learned a great deal from them. One example is Askan, who lives in Bonn, Germany (the former capital of West Germany) and has explored markets throughout the world. Askan’s blogposts and tweets clued me in to how we share a passion for farmers’ markets and local foods, and made me hungry to learn more. Askan kindly agreed to an interview, and I’m delighted to share our conversation with you.
How did you become interested in markets?
I started in the field of agriculture. I studied agronomy, worked as a casual laborer in the fields, and was a volunteer in Benin in West Africa. I learned to respect the hard work of farmers. Though I now work in international telecom market and live in a city, I continue to have a close, emotional relationship to food production and to cooking. Markets are the place to be in a city. And they’re always a good place for a chat with strangers.
What is it about markets that you enjoy most?
It’s very simple: quality produce and vendors who truly know their offering and can tell me a lot about it. And the colors and variety of all the produce, be it vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, cheese, bread … and always new discoveries. A little street food on the side doesn’t harm either. And a little chat here and there.
Which are your 5 favorite markets, and why?
Somehow each market is different and many have a charm in their own right. It might happen that a market becomes very attractive because of a few vendors with a strong focus on quality. Still there are markets I love or would love to visit more often.
Soulard Market in St. Louis, Missouri – For more than 200 years, this market has been embedded in the community under a simple but beautiful steel structure. It draws a huge diversity in cultures buying there, and many local products of good quality which are as far away from fast food clichés as imaginable. I have not found any better beef jerky than there.
Borough Market in London – An incredible choice from very traditional butchers to the newest vegan or hipster produce. It is probably the only market I have seen so far which is able to cater to everybody: friends of local products, vegans, carnivores, gourmet food lovers, and tourists. A great place to make food discoveries.
Market in Würzburg, Germany – Ok this is a credit to my home town, but this market has such a strong link to local food and farming that it stands out. And it’s where I find my all-time favorite sourdough bread.
Markthalle Stuttgart, Germany – It is a great place to shop when you need gourmet food at its best, from very local cuisine to Kobe beef and exotic fruits and vegetables.
Central market in Athens – The abundance of meat and fish is incredible. One butcher next to another, and one fishmonger after another. Everything looks a bit raw or wild, and not focused on tourists. It’s worth a detour.
I could name many more. I had the chance to go to some West and East African markets. I love the incredible vibe there, and of course the unusual offerings.
Any markets that didn’t live up to your expectations?
There are a few which disappointed me, for example Pike Place Market in Seattle, despite having a great reputation, had fantastic salmon but was not interesting beyond that, and Budapest Market Hall, where the offering does not match the beautiful architecture.
Do you have a favorite French market?
I only visited a few so far, but Forcalquier’s Monday market in Provence stands out. The way the stalls snuggle along the picturesque streets makes your heart bounce. You can find everything the Provence region has to offer, from colorful vegetables and fruits to sausages, cheeses, honey, lavender — you name it.
What’s one of the most surprising sights or offerings you’ve ever found at a market?
I strongly remember 2 discoveries: fried locusts in Kampala, Uganda. They tasted much better than expected, like shrimp. I understand now why insects can be part of a diet, even though it is not my preference. In a small village market somewhere in the Provence region in France I got probably the best tomatoes I have ever eaten, and I’m still looking for something comparable.
What’s a favorite feature of your website?
My website focuses on markets everywhere I’ve had the chance to travel. To make things a bit easy for finding markets, there is a database with market directories from around the world. My sense of orientation is poor, therefore at the end of each post there is a map with the exact location of the market so I can find it again.
What single piece of advice would you give others who are exploring markets that are unfamiliar to them?
Never be shy about asking vendors and customers to help you to discover new food and new cultures. Even if language is a barrier, there are always hands, feet and smiles.