By Richard Levy
One of the things I always look forward to doing as a travel writer, no matter where my travels take me, is waking up at dawn and wandering down to the local food market.
These bustling markets are filled with the intoxicating aromas, sights, sounds and tastes that are the distinguishing fingerprints of a city. The local food markets capture the uniqueness and pulse of each locale.
This misty early morning atmospheric splendor has probably not changed for hundreds of years. The knowledgeable women emphatically haggling over the prices with vendors was like watching an opera without the music and nobody dying.
In Naples, the rows of glistening freshly-caught fish, octopus and huge squids dangling in the early morning sunshine looked like something out of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” In Berlin, the endless panorama of countless types of wursts swaying in the gentle morning breeze. In Barcelona, the rows of horrific skinned rabbits and majestic giant prawns. In Paris, the huge sides of beef dancing on hooks, enticing shoppers.
The disgusting mounds of Tripe that would entice a gastrointestinal doctor, the bushels of huge live frogs desperately trying to escape and seductive aroma of freshly baked croissants. In Budapest, the Central Market, with its booths containing mounds of fresh fire-red paprika captivating your senses like some sort of pleasurable controlled substance. And I have not devoured such delectable cherry strudel since my Hungarian mom would make it special for me.
Until I can once again return to Europe, our incredible colorful Westchester farmers markets have managed to seduce my gastronomic sensibilities. Especially right now, with their robust supplies of the season’s fresh produce, giant pumpkins, every kind of squash and artful decorative gourds. The Hastings Farmers Market, for example, has a spectacular fish market that I’m addicted to, with fish so fresh they taste like they just jumped out of the ocean. Fresh oysters, clams, mussels to delight any seafood maven.
Freshly baked pies overflowing with fresh sour cherries, apples and peaches enveloped within an amazing gossamer crust. They’re $15 each but worth it. There’s even a pickle man just like at the Essex Market on the Lower East Side that my dad took me to when I was a kid.
There are homemade Greek specialties made by a Greek grandmother with mouthwatering moussaka, pastitsio and baklava. It’s so authentic that if you closed your eyes you could be eating in Athens.
One stand has one of my favorites, Confit of Duck. Slowly cooking it for a few hours makes it one of the most delectable dishes ever, duck that melts in your mouth.
But readers beware. Many of beloved outdoor farmers markets close the week before Thanksgiving, so be sure to get down to your local market early before the good stuff is picked over and enjoy its bountiful splendors. Don’t worry, they’re safe, farmers markets enforce social distancing, vendors wear masks and gloves and shoppers must wear masks.
Unlike the European markets there’s no good-natured haggling in our local markets, but the good news is you won’t encounter any disgusting Tripe, skinned rabbits or live fish, crabs or frogs desperately flopping around trying to escape.
Hopefully next year at this time we can wake up at dawn in our favorite European city and stroll down to the local food market to be totally enveloped in an endless foodie heaven. Bon appetit.
Hastings-on-Hudson resident Richard Levy is a former advertising “Mad Man” creative director and now a travel writer. He’s also an inventor of innovative new products and is writing and illustrating a new children’s book. You can contact him at RichardLevyTravelWriter@gmail.com.