When I shop in the market, I try to do it mindfully, using all five of my senses to choose what I buy. What looks amazing? Which items entice you to abandon your shopping list, re-plan the week’s meals because you simply can’t resist them? Which produce tastes best – transporting you from the market to the field, dairy or artisan producer? Do those beautiful peaches feel perfectly ripe – yielding slightly, but not yet soft under the light pressure of your fingers? Will those beautiful baby carrots break with a sharp snap revealing their crunchy freshness? Is the smell of the tomatoes thick and heavy, reminding you of long, hot and lazy summer days?
One of the greatest delights of shopping in small, local shops and markets is seeking the advice of the shop owner or stallholder. Who better to advise you on which tomato to buy for your sauce or salsa – a different one for each of course – than the man who devotes his energy to growing them, loads his van and brings them to the market each week. If you have produced the food, you have a vested interest in it. You want your customers to get the best from it and, of course, to return and buy more the following week.
It’s not just farmers, either. A bakery stall, loaded with beautifully crusty loaves, enticingly soft, flowery buns and shiny pastries, both sweet and savoury, is something that I find hard to pass by. My normal intentions of improving my knowledge through technical conversations about the loaves being sold (How long is it allowed to rise? How much liquid is used? What about sourdough starter?) are frequently waylaid whey I spy something uncommonly interesting that just has to make its way into my shopping bag.
In today’s crowded, anonymous cities, I love the connections that the market brings, and the relationships that evolve over the weeks and months. It’s not just the stallholders, either. I love peeking into other shoppers’ baskets and being inspired to seek out what they’ve bought. And when I see something new, asking them what it is and how it should be cooked.
Shopping abroad brings all of this to another level; the mundane instantly becomes exotic, and flavours are promised in unfamiliar languages, colours and presentations. My speciality ingredient is someone else’s every day staple. Our conversations about the food, flavours and best ways of using unfamiliar ingredients might be halting, stumbling over the language barriers, but connections are forged and new knowledge and inspiration gained. So when you’re away on holiday, find out the details of the local market, wade into the bustle and seek the new inspiration.