Tips for Navigating Asian Food Markets
In many parts of Asia, open-air farmers markets stocking fruit and vegetables from local farms are the norm. Grocery stores are few and far between and since they are usually much more expensive than open-air markets, they are not frequented by locals. I was raised in a small town in India and accompanied my mother on weekly shopping trips to the huge outdoor market. I remember being filled with excitement as we set out early on Sunday mornings. I’d follow my mother along meandering paths through mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables glimmering in the morning sunshine. The market was a menagerie of shouting vendors, jostling patrons, nimble goats and massive cows calmly chewing on fresh greens oblivious to the frenetic activity surrounding them. My mother always took enormous canvas bags with us to the market that would slowly begin to fill with green raw mangoes, yellow beans, eggplants, okra, carrots, peas, limes, cilantro, coconut, pomegranate and papayas.
Open-air markets are filled with local culture, color and unique produce. On your next trip to Asia, make sure to add it to your list of must-see places. The following are some tips for navigating food markets:
Take a sturdy reusable bag
Most vendors do not provide plastic or paper bags to carry home your produce. Reusable bags are a not only an eco-friendly choice, they are also essential if you plan on making purchases.
Bargaining is not only acceptable, it is expected
Start out by offering between half and three quarters of what you are quoted. I remember visiting a market in Bangkok where most of the vendors didn’t speak English. They had come up with a nifty way of communicating with tourists: punching in numbers on a hand-held calculator—by far the most creative method of striking a deal that I have witnessed!
Carry local currency in small bills
Since most vendors do not carry a lot of change, paying exactly what you bargained for is much easier when you have small bills in the local currency.
Cut fruit is best avoided
Juicy red chunks of watermelon or glistening yellow mangoes may be enticing, however fruit that has been cut is best avoided. Stomach bugs and other waterborne diseases are simply not worth the risk.
Try something new
Asian markets have an abundance of tropical fruit that are both delicious and nutritious. Don’t be afraid to try fruit and veggies that you have never tried before like guava, jackfruit, mangosteen, dragon fruit and durian. Native to southeast Asia, durian is particularly relished in Thailand. It has sweet tasting flesh, but cannot be eaten or transported on mass transit systems in Singapore and Thailand due to its overwhelming, pungent odor—doing so carries a rather hefty fine. So while enjoying your culinary adventures on your next trip, make sure to stay out of trouble with the law!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gia Coelho was born in India and now lives outside of Washington, DC. Her passions include culinary adventures, writing and painting acrylics on canvas. She also enjoys creating colorful, Zentangle art that she sells on her Etsy site: www.etsy.com/shop/giacoelho