Ah, the market. A staple of Italian life and one that provides a fantastic slice of local living.
Before we get started, let me clarify: when I talk about the market (mercato), I'm not talking about the supermarket (supermercato) but rather the farmer's market. Though there's a lot more than produce to find there!
Here are some of the things you can find at just about any Italian market.
Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way. Yes, you can find gorgeous, locally-grown fruits and vegetables at an Italian market. And unlike in the U.S., you'll only find what's in season in the area (though I do find bananas at my Calabrian market...)
Ironically, my local market in Soverato is held in the parking lot of a supermarket. Which, to no one's surprise, doesn't have great produce. Why would you buy it there when the farmers are steps away with fresher stuff?
My favorite thing to do is to ask a farmer how to cook a vegetable I'm unfamiliar with. It makes for a great conversation and Italian practice!
2. Fish and Meat
I haven't yet bought either fish or meat at my market yet, but there are a few vendors selling fresh-caught fish as well as cuts of meat.
Here in Calabria, you can also find local meat products like 'nduja, which is a spicy meat spread, and soppressata.
3. Cheese, Honey, Nuts, and Flowers
Before we head over to the non-food categories of things found at an Italian market, let me round up the rest. You can find locally-grown honey at the market. I've tried honey flavored with bergamotto, a citrus that only grows in Calabria, as well as strawberry.
I also love picking up a half kilo (about a pound) of pistachios. There are tons of other kinds of nuts for sale, but these are my favorites!
And of course, you can find cheese at an Italian market! In Calabria, I see a lot of caciocavallo, provolone, and parmeggiano.
I like putting together a bouquet of flowers at the end of my shopping trip if the flowers look good. My market also sells live plants.
4. Household Items
This category covers so much! At my market, you can buy pots and pans, dishes, utensils, garbage bags, linens, clothes, phone accessories, purses, and holiday items.
I have to remember those household items I need because sometimes they're cheaper here than at the cinese (market run by Chinese people. I'll write a post all about this later!).
5. Used and Antique Items
Something I hadn't seen at an Italian market until I came to the one in Soverato was used clothes. and linens Just like you might shop at a thrift store to pick up a used dress or tablecloth, there are vendors that sell used clothing and linens. The clothes are piled on tables, so the fun is in sorting through the mess!
My Friday market doesn't sell antiques, though I just found out there is a separate monthly antique market. But I've been to a fantastic antique market in Lucca!
A good Italian market will have pretty much everything you could need, and it's so fun to go!