Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Going to community market is a weekly experience not to be missed

Lucy buys a pillow for the couch
Shopping at the open air village markets in Italy is one of our favorite experiences. Each community has a market once a week. Our visits combine people-watching, fresh air, historical town centers and fresh food—the best parts of living here. In previous years, we went to the little Wednesday market in San Salvatore, but our favorite fruit and grocery seller, Grazia, no longer sells at that market. We can catch her in Borgo a Buggiano on Tuesday or Porcari on Wednesday, but this year, we’ve usually gone on Friday to the market in Ponte Buggianese.
Our favorite produce venditori at Ponte Buggianese.

Cheeses of many types and cured meats, all made in Italy.
Although the Esselunga supermarket here is excellent (it recently received recognition from The Boston Consulting Group as one of the top small chains in the world, behind only Trader Joe’s and Wegmans), we like to get our produce from the small market vendors when possible. We also like knowing that markets such as these have existed for millennia; we are shopping in a long-standing and traditional Italian way. The produce is extremely fresh, the prices are great and the sellers recognize and greet you upon your return. Food just harvested tastes ten times more delicious than its out-of-season counterparts, but be warned: It is best consumed within a few days of purchase, because it is already ripe when sold.
Colorful fabrics, drapes, blankets and tablecloths are beautifully displayed.

I’ve learned not to buy from the first vendor in the row. These are prime positions, but sometimes the prices are a little higher than the ones in the middle. We also note which vendors have more customers, because the locals know who has the best produce. At the Ponte Buggianese market, we had a half dozen vendors to chose from, but we ultimately picked a stall run by a friendly middle-aged couple because the man likes to sing about his produce when there is a lull in sales. Not exactly songs, but he will call out the names of his fruit and veggies in a lilting, musical voice, adding the price: “Belle, belle mele, solo un euro al chilo.”

We often buy roasted chicken, turkey or ham , taken straight
off the spit, from this booth from this man.
In general, the venditori prefer that shoppers don’t handle the produce. This is an issue of good hygiene. Instead, we tell them what items we want, and they place them in a bag and weigh them for us. When ordering something easy to count, like apples or oranges, it’s easy to explain how much one wants. Otherwise, when ordering something like string beans, we can just say, “Per due,” for two people. Sometimes we are handed a bag, which is an invitation to go ahead and pick out our own fruit and vegetables. We usually get Italian parsley (prezzemolo) and celery (sedano) thrown in as a freebie, per sapore (flavor).
We don't buy much seafood, but it's always interesting to see it displayed.

We had wondered if bargaining is expected in the marketplace, but we’ve learned that it is not done when shopping for food. Also, don’t expect to use a credit card at a market; they are almost always cash only.

We sometimes also buy clothing, fabric, tablecloths, cheese, kitchenware, scarves and hot food such as roasted chicken or fried vegetables. Larger markets have even more items, and then there are specialty markets held less frequently for used merchandise, antiques and hand-made items. Beyond that, there are sagras and festas, which feature foods with special names that have historical significance for the region. Believe me, one doesn’t have to visit all the great historical or artistic sites in Italy to enjoy la dolce vita. It can be done without leaving the neighborhood!


Comments welcome.