Open-air markets are incredibly addictive. Or may be it's just me. I could while away hours in a market, peeping into every store, inhaling the smells, chatting up the store owners, gawking at strange produce and buying some for later, tasting samples, soaking in the atmosphere - the colors, the flavors, the people, the chatter, the hustle and the bustle.
After spending all day or days in museums, monuments and anything else that might set a city apart from any other I've ever visited, all it takes is one visit to a market to realize that I may be in a different land but there are a lot more things that bind people than set them apart.
Markets offer you a glimpse into the soul of a city as no other feature can. It's where the locals hang out - and connect - to carry out mundane transactions; it has the stuff the locals buy for every day life - the onions to go in smabhar or sauce, the tomatoes to go in rasam or a salad, the apples or the kishmish that will be savored after dinner, the flowers that will adorn an idol or grace a dinner table that night. As you go about the business of picking what you want to buy and paying for your loot, it feels like you are being let in on a secret. For a time, however fleeting it may be, the city embraces you as one of its own. And that's a heady feeling.
P.S. The chef was hot! And check out that scooter! The noise matched its girth.
Having grown up in India, markets were always part of the equation, no matter where we lived. When we lived in Bangalore, my dad used to take me and my brother to any market we came upon on weekend jaunts that had no destination. The market at Jayanagar 4th block, K.R. Market, and the ones at Malleswaram 8th cross and 15th cross were regular haunts and were the supermarkets of old during festivals, stocking everything from sugarcane and yams for sankaranthi and pongal to idols for the Ganesha festival, Christmas trees and lights in December, plantain shoots and the pooja items for Hindu rituals.
This boy on Bannerghatta Road in Bangalore saw the camera in my hand and posed with the two sugar cane shoots
When I left India many moons ago and landed in Philadelphia, after days of moping around, feeling lost and disoriented, I found my bearings in South Philly's Italian Market (I am eternally grateful to my then room mate for taking me there when she did). It had everything to assuage a lonely girl's homesickness.
Markets are also very handy when you are traveling to countries with unfamiliar cuisines or if you are rushing from one place to another with no time for a sit-down meal. We've called upon a variety of foods - from cherries, oranges, strawberries and baked goods and candies - bought in open-air markets as reinforcements in a pinch.
And sometimes, it's much more than the stuff for sale, delectable though they may be, that stays in your mind.
So the next time you're stuck in a strange city for a length of time, check out its market. You might not feel so lonely after all.