together enough money for a set of round-the-world flights. The trip
was both terrifying and magical, and although we met mountains, cities,
monuments and new friends, what I really became obsessed with were the
food markets that we came across.
(which felt outrageously naughty) and the mesmerising cacophony of
Mumbai’s markets, I found myself wide-eyed and open-mouthed in a soup
of street stalls in Hong Kong, watching live frogs being nonchalantly
dispatched by the stallholder’s hatchet.
of a country. Food is the vital stuff that flows from the land into the
people, where it’s metabolised into the blood, fat and bones that make
us what we are. Markets are the cultural, economic and gossip hubs that
make it all happen, and they are inevitably microcosms of their
exploring the most extraordinary lands on the planet making Cooking in
the Danger Zone for the BBC. On my travels I never feel I know a
country, city or town until I’ve visited its markets, got my bearings
and understood its noises, smells and flavours.
the strange and wonderful foods on offer, but if I’m staying in a hotel
room with no cooking facilities, it’s impossible to prepare them. These
days, I tend to travel with a little foldaway charcoal burner, and I’ll
buy a cheap pan wherever I visit so I can cook whatever I buy.
Oh, and if you visit a market of strange foods in a strange town, be
sure to ask the stallholders their advice on cooking – you will
occasionally find yourself invited back after closing time for the meal
of your life.
1 La Merced, Mexico City, Mexico
|Ant Eggs, www.richardcawood. com|
This vast indoor market offers some of the wildest foods I’ve ever
seen. There are whole sections dedicated to cacti displayed in huge
circular towers. There are chilli sections where they stock hundreds of
different varieties: the large chocolate-brown types are sweet and
musky, but beware of the nasty little light-red ones – they are likely
to smack you in the chops.
it: it’s the one with large cakes of smoked duck entrails, bright-red
tiny crayfish and large bags of scrofulous old tat that you’d never
believe was edible (usually pre-Hispanic-era foods loved by the Aztecs
ant eggs that are soft with a creamy, sweet taste. At $80 per kilo you
can buy fly eggs (they crunch on your teeth like tough caviar) that you
mix with egg and chopped cactus to make fly-egg omelettes. They don’t
taste of much, but the texture is like nothing else on earth.
|Red king crab,Nemo's great uncle|
This is the best market in the world for the intrepid gastronaut.
Not only can you buy every grotesque piscine nether-dweller, mollusc,
crawler and bottom-feeder that ever cropped up in your nightmares, you
can also take them upstairs to one of the first-floor gallery’s
bring-your-own restaurants, where they will cook your shopping for you.
your bag of slimy mess to the waitress, pay a small cookage (like
corkage) fee, and buy rice, kimchi (fermented cabbage) and beer to go
The stallholders are remarkably friendly, but don’t expect to get much cooking advice as few seem to speak English.
it a good squeeze, popping its intestines out and handing them to me to
eat (a little sour, truth be told). Then she just cut the
still-wriggling slug into neat slices and handed them to me in a bowl.
If that’s too much for you, don’t worry, most things get a proper
Slavutych, which has the only market in the world with a
radiation-testing lab so you can check your food before eating it. In
1986 a failed experiment caused the world’s worst nuclear accident, and
tons of radioactive dust were deposited across Europe. Slavutych got
more than its fair share.
workers still employed in decommissioning the power station and its
‘Zone of Alienation’, where nobody is supposed to live (but which you
can sometimes visit as a tourist).
of porcini mushrooms. But the radiation-testing station is the most
amazing thing about it, designed specifically for monitoring the food
on sale. Every vendor has a certificate proving that their produce is
currently within safe levels of radiation. However, I went mushroom
picking with the local mayor and our haul turned out to be eight times
the safe radiation level…
I’ve never heard as much squealing in any market as I have here,
although most is actually human squealing. The Chinese seem to eat
everything and waste nothing – nowhere is this illustrated more clearly
than at this small strip of stalls specialising in the most extraordinary foods that ever peeped their unfortunate heads out of the ground. Try grilled snakeskins, squab pigeon kebabs (you eat the whole bird: head, bones and feet), cockroaches, vast silkworm larvae and
assorted grilled field flotsam.
in the same colours, and the stallholders have clearly got their
Englishesque patter from years of flogging bugs to foreigners. That
said, the tourists are mainly Chinese. It’s a classic place for a young
Beijing lad to bring his girlfriend on a night out to shock her with
his gastronomic bravery. Hence the squeals.
network of streets and shops. It can be pretty overwhelming, and at
first it seems like there’s not a lot to buy except dodgy shirts and
shoes. But look closer and you’ll spot weird little shops selling
ecclesiastical tools-of-trade to the Ethiopian Orthodox church folk –
indoor umbrellas, incense-burners, fabulous hats and robes in spangly
smoky, hot speciality that’s essential for making the great doro wat
curry – arguably the Ethiopian national dish alongside injera (a
blanket-like bread that looks like tripe).
speciality. The whole cow carcass hangs in a booth at the front; just
point at the bit you’d like and the butcher chops it into a few large
steaks. He’ll give you a rusty-looking knife (I’d bring your own, if I
were you), and a small pot of spices. A liberal slug of whisky
traditionally accompanies the beef, although I’ll admit to preferring
beer. It may seem odd to be eating raw beef in Ethiopia, but it’s great.
many of them small-scale traders selling a single product. The best way
to get there is by noisy, daredevil-driven tuk-tuk, which helps prepare
you for the frenetic and cacophonous feel of the market, with its
shouty traders, raucous hagglers and booming music stalls. Thai
markets, more than any I’ve visited, give you a real insight into the
people and the ordered chaos of the country.
pad thai and tom yam that are dirt-cheap but often taste fantastic. I
love the myriad insects, rats and bats, and I recommend trying
grasshoppers and cockroaches, but bear in mind that they are a little
like crisps – the oil delivers most of the flavour, so if the stall has
a large pot of dirty brown oil that’s clearly been around for weeks,
the insects will taste musky and murky. Try the deep-fried quail eggs
–surprisingly refined for a market snack.
Afghanistan is broadly failing to improve its levels of human
development, its vibrant markets are a testament to the power of food
to bring order, structure and employment to turmoil. Also, the vast
majority of Afghans are warm, helpful and exceptionally friendly to
Westerners – that legendary Arab tradition of hospitality lives and
breathes throughout all the difficulty the Afghan people are facing.
should buy some meat and charcoal at the markets and head out with the
rest of the city to find any patch of land you can for a barbecue.
and excrement, the oddly named Microrayn is a little more structured,
with tarmac roads and many permanent stalls plus decent-looking
butchers and vegetable stalls. The butchers are fantastic: they have
mincing machines that are made from old car engines, and once you’ve
bought your meat, they will turn it on using a car key and rev it using
an accelerator pedal. I’d avoid the livid-pink deep-fried Coronary
Express Afghan Hamburgers though. Nothing good can come from them.
finest, most exquisite ingredients available to man. It’s on the
southern fringes of Paris (about 11km from the centre), it opens at
midnight and closes by 7am. This is the world’s largest wholesale
market, covering a vast and, frankly, unattractive plot of 2.3 sq km.
It’s so big that it has its own train station and motorway exit.
highlights of Rungis – it’s crammed full of the finest pheasants,
hares, pigeon and woodcock. The Triperie is also spectacular: an
intestinal festival, whose ingredients go to make the famous
andouillette sausages the French are so fond of, but which taste
largely of sweaty pants.
tour (find out more at www.visiterungis.com). If you can’t arrange a
visit to Rungis, any large French city market is a great experience
both for the fantastic range of foods on offer and the extraordinary
level of respect that the French traders show to their produce.