Farmers markets are ‘photographs of that destination and the local culture,’ says French chef Alain Ducasse, who encourages visitors to build meals and experiences around them.
Visiting a local farmers market should be on every vacation itinerary, according to the French chef Alain Ducasse, who runs 25 restaurants in nine countries. “No matter what city or town they’re in, farmers markets are a year-round attraction and about much more than produce,” he said. “They’re photographs of that destination and the local culture.” Ducasse makes it a point to explore the farmers market wherever he is in the world and has plenty of advice on how travelers can get the most out their trip to one.
Here are some tips from the acclaimed chef on how to get the most out of your market visit.
• Go early and keep the season in mind: Many farmers markets open early in the day and close by early afternoon, with the highest quality produce and dairy often selling out by late morning. For the best selection, Ducasse advised an early-morning visit. Also keep seasonality in mind: If you hope to find strawberries during your trip to the South of France, for example, get there by July. And that doesn’t just go for produce — many cheeses are also seasonal. “If you stick to buying what’s in peak season, you’re bound to enjoy the best that the region you’re in has to offer.”
• Get in the kitchen: If you have access to a kitchen during your trip (home shares, like Airbnb, are one way to go), Ducasse recommended hitting the local market with the intention of preparing a meal. “Using the region’s products to cook a meal makes your destination come to life,” he said. The dishes you cook don’t need to be complicated — on a recent trip to a market in Saintes, near France’s Atlantic Coast, for example, Ducasse bought just-caught gray shrimp and sautéed them that evening in butter and salt for a simple but superb dinner.
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• Plan to have lunch: Many farmers markets have stands with vendors who sell local culinary specialties that they have often prepared themselves — which can be substantial enough for lunch. “The food is freshly prepared, authentic and inexpensive,” Ducasse said. In Nice, for example, farmers markets are renowned for their socca, a crepe made of chickpea flour, while markets in Italy sell small plates of hand-rolled pasta.
• Shop for souvenirs: Farmers markets are ideal for finding edible souvenirs from your trip — many sell products that you can pack in your suitcase, including honey, jams, recently pressed oils and hard cheeses. “When you’re back at home, that honey or whatever food you bought will help you relive the fun of your trip,” Ducasse said.
• Don’t forget the markets close to home: You don’t have to travel far to have a fulfilling farmers-market experience, Ducasse said — even on a day trip or weekend getaway. When you return home, prepare a meal with the ingredients you’ve picked up. Ducasse said that learning to cook with the products you have access to on a daily basis can be life changing.