A Trip to the Market – il mercato

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Saturday is market day in Pavia.  You can feel it in the air from the moment you step outside.  Those eager to nab a bargain on sponges, pick up some fresh oranges or a roast chicken transverse the winding streets to Piazza Petrarca.  Pavians flock en masse to this weekend institution the way Americans line up fort Sunday brunch.

I’ll be honest, the market intimidates me a bit.  The couple times I’ve bought food there I worried about getting ripped off.  Did they overcharge me for my half squash?  Did they give me the worst quality oranges?  What about my radicchio?  How can I tell if this is any good?  Relax, relax.  It’s the market.

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There’s an astonishing variety at the market.  You can get fruits and vegetables, of course, but you can also get clothing and shoes.  You can find old books and games for the kids.  Don’t worry if you don’t have time to cook lunch or make dessert, there are prepared foods as well.  Perhaps you’d like some fried frogs or a huge supply of pan di mais?  You may have to push your way to the front of the imaginary queue, but take a moment to think like an Italian an you too will have a taste of this authenticity.

I don’t always buy something at the market, but I’ve made it my Saturday habit to peruse the stalls after my brioche and cappuccino.  Could there be a better way to judge the season than seeing artichokes popping up or brilliantly bright oranges spilling out of wooden crates?

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Even the clothing selection changes in according to the seasons.  One day week they have peacoats, then down coats and soon I expect there will be sun dresses and bikinis.  It all changes at the market.

Do Italians really shop at the market?  Is this really the meeting place for all walks of Italian society?  I don’t know.  To me, it looks like the prime customer is of an older generation, but there are always surprises lurking around the corner stall.  The position of the market in Italian society may be changing but it’s still strong.  After all, they aren’t the trendy farmers markets in America.  The Italian mercato is something else, something fascinating and something worth checking out on your trip to Italy.

Do you enjoy going to farmers markets?  Do you have a farmers market where you live?

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