Our World Famed bastions of fine produce

Cork’s English Market has been a hub of the city since the late 1700s. Picture: Ronan O'Connell

From traditional farmers’ markets to giant food halls and historic indoor markets, there’s variety in the markets of Europe. RONAN O’CONNELL thinks these are four of the most interesting.

English Market (Cork, Ireland)

“How are ya now? Would ya like that thick cut, would ya?” the middle-aged butcher asks before chopping a slab of beef with his cleaver. Whistling all the while, he slides my chosen meat across a wooden board, wraps it in paper and hands it to me with a wink and a smile: “Enjoy your dinner, my friend”.

This is the kind of friendly and intimate transaction which has been taking place for more than 200 years here in Ireland’s oldest market. Housed within a beautiful old building in downtown Cork city, the English Market is home to more than 50 different businesses, many of whom have operated here for generations.

There is the lively wet market area with its butchers, seafood stores, fruit and vegetable shops, organic outlets and bakeries. Further inside the market are vendors selling clothes, jewellery, traditional instruments, Irish art and handicrafts. Since the late 1700s, visitors to Cork have been fascinated by this charming market, while many locals still believe it is still the best place to buy fresh food in the city.

Great Market Hall (Budapest, Hungary)

This is not just a wonderful market but also an icon of Budapest and one of the most interesting pieces of architecture in Hungary. From the giant arch above its main entrance, to its colourful ceramic roof tiles, and its soaring ceiling, the Great Market Hall is a hugely impressive structure.

Along with its attractive appearance I was swayed by the variety of its stalls. Where some markets focus on a fairly narrow range of products, the Great Market Hall casts a wide net. There is a seemingly endless selection of Hungarian food from snacks to dried meats and freshly cooked hot meals such as goulash stew and spicy halaszle soup. Once you’ve filled your belly you can browse the massive range of clothing, shoes, handbags, leather products, handicrafts and souvenirs for sale. This market opens from 6am so it’s a great option for breakfast.

Sant Antoni Market (Barcelona, Spain)

For nine years it was closed, but last year Barcelona’s historic Sant Antoni Market re-opened after a huge renovation. One of the oldest and most famous markets in Spain, Sant Antoni has been a major tourist drawcard for more than a century.

It is renowned for its fresh produce, tapas bars and fine butchers and fishmongers. I visited Sant Antoni in the weeks after it was re-opened following the $127 million renovation. Fortunately the building has not lost the charm given to it by Antoni Rovira i Trias, who designed it in 1882. Its original iron frame was retained, but the structure was enlarged to create room for even more vendors. I found myself a nice little cafe, ordered a piping hot cortado coffee and a freshly made pastry and watched the customers roll by.

Kaufhaus de Westens (Berlin, Germany)

The biggest, the best, the richest, the freshest. Berlin’s home of luxury food comes with a huge reputation.

Spread across two entire floors in Europe’s second-biggest department store, this indoor market Kaufhaus de Westens advertises itself as having “two football fields worth of food” in reference to its extraordinary size.

There are more than 100 food outlets, from basic restaurants to luxury dining options, bakeries to butchers, fishmongers to candy stores, beer bars to wine bars, as well as a monstrous 1000-seat restaurant in a massive atrium overlooking downtown Berlin. 

The quality and range of food here is so extraordinary that I walked around dazed for 45 minutes before finally settling on my meal, a huge and delicious wiener schnitzel with salad. Paired with a stein of ice cold German wheat beer this proved to be the perfect late lunch. If you want to taste Germany, look no further.

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