As we head into what promises to be an exciting late spring and summer, I’m hoping we’ll see a safe return to outdoor dining and socializing. Markets and street food, including food trucks, are both things that I can’t wait to enjoy again. They’re simple, fun, inexpensive, and fulfilling ways to entertain yourself and take part in your community whether you’re close to home or abroad. We’ll give you a taste of a few of our favorites, from places we’ve lived or visited.
Farmers markets and other outdoor markets, including night markets, can be common in cities and towns across the U.S., and are a part of daily life in Europe and other countries. The market is a place to get your produce and other groceries, shop for antiques and clothing, or meet a friend for a meal and day out. Depending on where you are in the world, be prepared to come with plenty of cash, and to practice your haggling if you want to save a little money.
Brick Lane Market, London, England
One example of a large-scale outdoor market is Brick Lane Market in east London, which has a history reaching back to the 17th century. The bulk of the action occurs every Sunday, but the surrounding shops and restaurants are open most days of the week. Brick Lane Market includes a flea market, craft fair, farmers market, tea houses, international food stalls, and is a haven for the creative community. The surrounding area is also famous for its curry houses and Indian restaurants, which we highly recommend. Interspersed through the streets and alleyways that house the market are tons of opportunities to visit clubs and bars, enjoy art exhibitions, and listen to live music.
Seattle has so many great markets, but the most iconic is Pike Place, which has been around since 1907. Even if you’ve never been, you recognize the red sign in photos and know about the fish-throwing fishmongers. Here you can enjoy a cup of coffee, views of the Puget Sound, and fabulous buskers; window shop (for comic books, crystals, collectibles, clothing, and more); and find quirky little shops while getting lost in the winding passageways. My usual trips would include some new jewelry, tea, spices, and hard-to-find gourmet grocer items. Grab a friend and share some of the “world’s best” mac and cheese from Beecher’s while watching curds being stirred in huge vats. Pike Place also features one of the oldest head shops in Seattle.
Eastern Market, Washington, DC
Eastern Market has been around since 1873 in some fashion. Visiting on weekends was one of my favorite day trips when I lived in the area. Much like Brick Lane Market, Eastern Market includes not only the Tuesday and Weekend Farmers Markets, but also the Weekend Outdoor Market, where artisans and vendors sell anything from used bikes and antiques, to handmade jewelry, pottery, glass, and other arts and crafts. Some of my favorite art and jewelry has come from the Weekend Outdoor Market. It’s always nice to fuel your shopping day with a snack or meal at the indoor South Hall Market, which features local produce, baked goods, meat, seafood, cheese, condiments, deli sides, fresh pasta, prepared meals, and fresh flowers. Eastern Market is in the Capitol Hill area of DC, which gets you close to photos ops and tons of great restaurants and brunch spots.
Street food is hard to explain and categorize…it’s common in big US cities and even more common abroad, and showcases the personality and flavor of fellow everyday people. Domestically, you may know fish tacos, hot dogs, falafel, cheesesteak, knishes, shave ice, etc. Internationally, you might know crepes, jerk chicken, meat pies, bánh mì , döner kebabs, currywurst, chaat, etc. Since street food is such a huge thing to talk about, we’ll just give you the basic tips and tricks for dining this way, and let you choose your own adventures.
Whether you’re a local or traveling, when you don’t have much of a kitchen to speak of, or much money, street food is a way you can eat extremely well for less. Research your destination’s street food before you travel or go out for the day. In cities known for their street food, make a point to visit a famous street vendor…they can receive Michelin stars and other awards. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Try new fruits, or choose something that you can’t even begin to identify. And don’t forget beverages like coffee, tea, or chai.
Some say that street food is safer/more sanitary than restaurant food, due to it being more visible. Anything can happen, though, so if you’re worried about food safety, here are general tips: avoid raw food and foods that may include tap water (at room temp); say no thank you to ice; choose popular stalls with long lines; eat hot food that you can see being prepared; adjust mealtimes to local mealtimes; eat only fruit you can peel; eat vegetarian when your eyeballs and gut are telling you it’s a good idea; and avoid samples unless you can verify that they are fresh. Don’t be ashamed to bring your own utensils, straws, disinfecting wipes, and a portable water filtering bottle if you have a need to be extra safe.
For inspirational homework while you’re waiting to travel again, we highly recommend the Netflix Street Food series. And here’s a nice mini slide show from the Travel Channel featuring the world’s best open air markets.