There’s no better way to get under the skin of a destination than to gorge on local food. And markets provide an unrivalled way to eat stunning, affordable dishes, as well as see a city in all its messy glory. If your appetite rules on the road, then these are the places you need to go.
Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo’s most famous market is due to move to a sparkling new facility outside of the city centre in November 2016. That means time is running out to visit the original, first built in 1935. For the renowned tuna auction, get here early, before 5am, as only 120 tourists are allowed in. You can apply to enter at the market’s Kachidoki Gate. If you’re not an early riser, you can still trawl the outer halls and grab a bite in one of the myriad sushi and tempura stands which dot the market’s edges.
Key delicacy: The sushi here is legendary and more affordable than most places in Tokyo. Just be prepared to queue. The tempura joints are easier to get into and just as delicious.
Once you’ve eaten: Walk off all the rice bloat in the pretty Hamarikyu Gardens, just a short stroll from Tsukiji.
Borough Market, London, UK
The epicentre of London’s foodie scene has been given a major overhaul in recent years, but still retains its charm, and most importantly the stalls which make it such a draw for locals and visitors alike. At weekends Borough gets seriously hectic, the clatter of trains rumbling into London Bridge overhead adding to the Victorian vibe. Brave the crowds though and you can pick up organic veggies and fresh fish if you fancy cooking yourself or some sensational meals for far less than you’d pay in most London restaurants. Pieminister’s pie and mash is a British institution you can’t afford to miss.
Key delicacy: Borough is blessed with dozens of first rate food stalls. But Brindisa’s chorizo and piquillo pepper rolls are the standout snack. Find them opposite The Market Porter pub.
Once you’ve eaten: Sink a pint at The George Inn on Borough High Street, one of the oldest pubs in London.
La Pescheria, Sicily, Italy
Few places are as obsessed with food as Sicily. And nowhere embodies this Italian island’s love of seafood more than La Pescheria. This Catania fish market buzzes with life every morning from Monday to Saturday, as the daily catch is brought out for sale. It’s as much about watching fishmongers and locals indulging in brash bartering over tables of the freshest fish the Mediterranean has to offer as it is about eating. Fortunately, you can do plenty of the latter at a string of superb restaurants which pack the side streets around the main marketplace.
Key delicacy: Prawns cooked over open flames with a wedge of lemon on the side is as simple and delicious as it gets. Add some fresh bread to mop up the juices.
Once you’ve eaten: Walk though the nearby Piazza Duomo and across to the spectacular Cattedrale di Sant’Agata.
Central Market, Hoi An, Vietnam
Tucked on the banks of the Perfume River, Hoi An’s Central Market throbs with activity all morning, a stark contrast to this Unesco-protected town’s chilled backstreets. The colourful arrangements of spices and vegetables will stop you in your tracks, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find plenty of snacks to tide you over while you mooch around. Bowls of pho and rice paper rolls can be snaffled for less than a dollar a pop. A morning spent here and you won’t be needing lunch.
Key delicacy: Banh mi, a delicious sandwich of cold cuts, fresh greens, pate and chili all stuffed into a fresh French-style baguette is the one thing you must eat.
Once you’ve eaten: Stroll along the waterfront and visit the stunning Japanese covered bridge.
La Boqueria, Barcelona, Spain
Tucked away at the top end of Barcelona’s La Rambla, La Boqueria is one of Europe’s most historic food markets. It opened in its current guise in 1840, but a market is said to have existed on this site since 1217. The passion for food here is obvious from the moment you work your way through one of the narrow entrances and into the aisles. Piles of fresh fruit and veg and cured meats make this the ideal spot for pulling together the ultimate beach picnic. If that seems too much like hard work, pull up a seat at a pintxos bar and order the best small plates Barcelona has to offer.
Key delicacy: Arroz Cardoso con Bogavente, a seafood and rice stew, is the dish to look out for. Bar Pinotxo, just inside the main entrance, does the best.
Once you’ve eaten: Take a wander down La Rambla and head to the beach to rest after a morning of heavy eating.
Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile
Santiago’s beautiful Mercado Central, housed in a wrought iron building designed in Glasgow, Scotland, is a sight to behold in itself. But step inside and you’ll find all manner of treats to satisfy hungry travellers. The focus here is on seafood. Trawl the aisles to get a look at the wide array of shellfish and deep sea creepy crawlies on offer before heading to one of the food stalls at the edge of the market for a proper feast. The touristy restaurants in the centre are best avoided.
Key delicacy: Caldillo de congrio is a classic Chilean dish that’s easily found at the Mercado Central. This fish stew is renowned for seeing off even the worst hangovers.
Once you’ve eaten: Head over to Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s main square. It’s home to the city’s main post office and cathedral.
New World Mall, Queens, New York, USA
From the outside it might look like your average shopping mall. But pull back the plastic curtains, head down to the basement food court and prepare to be amazed. New World Mall, in the Flushing area of Queens, is home to NYC’s best Asian food. Food stands line the walls and there’s a central seating area, meaning you can mix and match until you’re stuffed. All Asia is represented here, from Korean dumplings to Chinese tripe noodles, via Japanese takoyaki and Vietnamese broths. Dishes cost less than $10, so it pays to try as many places as possible.
Key delicacy: Xiao Yuan Huang’s pork belly and pickled green buns take the crown of best dish here from a very crowded field.
Once you’ve eaten: Jump on the subway and head to Flushing Meadows Corona Park to see the iconic Unisphere globe from the 1964 New York World’s Fair.