As an interest in local food and the farm-to-table movement grows, there has been a rise in farmer’s markets and food halls. But in some parts of the country (and the world, for that matter), these food halls have been around for many years. They are simply enjoying a rise in the number of people perusing their stalls. There are also a large number of new food hall destinations being built for tourists and locals alike. When I travel, I love going to see these food halls. They range from tourist traps to places where locals also go to buy items for a special meal.
Probably my favorite food hall I’ve ever visited was in Dijon, France. The hall itself was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who grew up in the area.
The amazing part of this market was simply the pure respect that everyone paid to the ingredients and to the vendors. There seemed to be more locals than tourists here, and this guy had a huge line, even while other butchers had no one at their stalls. It seemed like he had been doing this job for a very long time, and you could tell the locals trusted him.
All of the vendors there had amazing looking ingredients, and I wished I had a kitchen to just run home and cook everything for sale. The market was also surrounded by small cafes where the staff would go in each day, find what looked good and make that their special of the day. I decided to try two of them during my stay and they were outstanding. This daily menu is something I could only hope to aspire to as a chef.
A little closer to home, in Montreal, they have different markets in different neighborhoods. I managed to see two of them: Jean-Talon and Atwater. At one of them, I was so overcome by the beauty of the food, my bags were heavy heading home. Not only did I find local maple syrup, but the cheesemonger and some local berries looked so good I just had to have a light “lunch” of them. Again, the locals seemed to be the predominant attendees, but there were indeed some tourists there with me.
Also in Canada, St. Lawrence Market in Toronto was the one place everyone told me that I needed to go. This huge hall held everything from meat and cheese purveyors to produce to high end caviar vendors to jewelry stalls. This market seemed to be geared a little toward the tourist crowd. The product was good, but the prices were high. And in talking to the locals, I was not the only one to think like this. They made it sound as though mainly tourists went to this market. But it still was amazing to see.
Back in the States, I have also found many of these markets. In Philadelphia, I had a long layover and went in to the city for a cheese steak (cliche, I know). I was sent to Reading Terminal to DiNic’s. Luckily I had time to wander the aisles and hang out with the locals. Had I not been heading out on a two week trip, my bags may have been much heavier on the way out.
I also go to Seattle on a fairly regular basis. And no trip to Seattle would be complete without going to Pike Place Market. Though it is a bit touristy, it is lovely just to wander through all the stalls and see what is there. Everything from local lavender goods to belts to fish being thrown (this is where you will find the tourists - cameras at the ready). Though I have known many a local that swears by these guys’ oysters, and I can personally attest to their amazing smoked salmon (not the pre-boxed tourist stuff - the good stuff. Ask them - they may even let you taste).
But if you can’t travel outside of the city, you can always visit Eataly here in Chicago. It recently made one of the lists going around the internet of the best food markets in the country to visit. I have been a couple of times and it is something to behold, but it is rather expensive. Most of the ingredients there are Italian so if you are looking for anything else, this is not the market for you. There are also restaurants inside, but be prepared to pull out the pocketbook and dig deep. You will find mainly tourists here, but a few locals will pop in for the gelato if nothing else. You can find everything from fresh pasta to seafood to cured meats to a huge selection of Italian oils and wines.
The best part of food markets near and far is the chance of coming across something you have never seen before. Plus having all this food goodness in one location is, simply put, amazing. But if it is too overwhelming, come to The Chopping Block's Lincoln Square Farmers Market classes. In these classes our chefs take you to the market, find interesting items, then take you back to the kitchen and cook what we find. Our first class of the season is coming up this Thursday. Will you come see what we can find at the market?
Sign up our for Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class on Thursday, June 25 6pm at Lincoln Square.