Above: A scene from the famous Pescheria Rialto (Rialto Fish Market) in Venice (photo via Dall’Uva).
In a country like Italy where a large part of the culture revolves around its cuisine, food tourism is a legitimate form of entertainment. While wiling away the hours at restaurant after restaurant certainly is pleasurable, it just doesn’t fit into the economic reality that most of us are dealing with today.
So keeping in the spirit of budget travel, our number one way to have fun and learn about Italian food is taking a stroll through the open-air food markets. The technicolor visual display of fruits, vegetables, and flowers can rival any art museum in its beauty. It doesn’t cost un centesimo just to walk through. Listening to the Italian grandmas haggle with the fruttivendolo is a true slice of Italian life to savor. It’s also a first-rate education in regional produce and seasonality. For the die-hard foodie, there is hardly anything better.
There are also fish markets that are a sight (and a smell) to behold. The famous one is Venice is not to be missed!
You can easily make a picnic of fruit and cheese purchased at a market. But if you happen to have a kitchenette in your affittacamere, you can dine like royalty on your market score for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal. If you are brave and armed with minimal Italian vocabulary, ask the vendor how he suggests preparing those fresh fuchsia and white Barlotti beans in your bag. Find out from the fishmonger what one does with half a kilo of cicale di mare (sea crickets).
Who needs cookbooks? This is the real deal!
Whether you have access to a kitchen or not, the pleasure of sitting on the steps of the cathedral dominating the market piazza while biting into a warm and juicy Italian peach can, at best, be a transcendental experience. At worst, it is simply delicious and it will hardly cost you a euro.
Top 5 markets da non perdere (not to miss):
Venice: Rialto Fish market, Campo delle Pescherie (Tuesday-Saturday)
Rome: Campo de’ Fiori (Monday-Saturday)
Florence: San Lorenzo Market (Tuesday-Saturday)
Padova: Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta
Naples: Pignasecca Market (open daily)