Puglia, the land where every settlement – big or small – has a market, weekly or twice weekly.
Every Carnival, festival, Fiera, National holiday or Saints/Patrons day, apart from having fireworks and parades, invariably also has a market.
Puglian markets are great to wander around, even if you are not buying, they are diverting and entertaining even just to “people watch”. These are not the fashionable “Farmers markets” we are used to seeing near huge Cosmopolitan cities of Northern Europe… with dainty packets of exotic produce nicely packaged at exorbitant mark-ups, or home made jams/chutneys at eye watering prices, No, Puglia markets are gritty real life markets where large proportions of the village or town population buy their weekly fruit and vegetables.
Barrows and stalls are loading high in the early morning with glistening produce freshly harvested from the rich soil form where they were grown. Farmers and smallholders bring in the produce they have sown, grown and garnered from their own plots that their fathers tended before them, sometimes soil still clings to the roots and in early morning-time the previous nights dew can still be wet on their leaves as you make your selections.
Artificial fertilisers and sprays are hardly used down here, instead the sun rays and water from rain and irrigation have been combing with hard toil to produce the fresh brightly coloured bounty on sale. Stalls selling cheeses and salamis offer samples and tastes from the bewildering arrays, many locally made by small producers from the livestock that they tend themselves. Fresh fish are sold straight from the fishermens boats in seaside villages and town markets, what is on offer is what was caught that morning from the brightly coloured boats moored in the small harbours or bobbing on the waves offshore.
Never be afraid to haggle as it is an expected part of the game, stallholders would consider themselves lucky if a customer didn’t get a reduction in the asking price or expect some extra little added “to improve the weight”
In season, gluts of produce can result in ridiculously low prices and stall holders after weighing your purchase and stating the price, will often voluntarily throw in an extra handful or two before they hand your bag over, on one occasion a short hesitation on our part as to which type of apple to buy, prompted the vendor to offer us one of each to taste “so as to help us decide” !
A staggering assortment of different pulses, beans and nuts are weighed out from 50 kilo cloth sacks into paper bags, a huge array of buckets of olives and pickles, bottled vegetables and produce in oil, dried and salted fish as hard as wooden boards, (the centuries old method of preserving cod as “Bacala” that needs days of soaking in fresh water to reconstitute it before cooking) flower sellers compete with sweet makers and stalls selling knick-knacks and household goods, the pungent smell that alerts you to the presence of a rarely found treasure … the fresh mushroom stall with its collection of weird and wonderful wild harvested fungi.
Little eatery stalls often times lay a screen of aromas around their locations, from the sizzling meat and toasted panini’s stuffed with different filling offered as snacks on the go to hungry customers.
No, this is not a suburban market, this is the real Mediterranean market, full of the sights, smells and commotions of sellers and buyers doing the real business of trying to make a living trading the results of their field work and where in turn the purchasers are buying at the cheapest affordable prices.
Go on, take the time to explore the markets and watch the process of selling the rewards of hard toil.