Let’s Talk Food: Street markets offer look at other cultures, people

“I have wandered all my life, and I have also traveled; the difference between the two being this, that we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” — Hilaire Belloc

Travel is not easy. The experience is filled with uncertainty, stress, is physically challenging, and there are sometimes disappointments when the experience does not live up to our expectations.

However, there is no experience in our lives that is more satisfying, more educational and results in expanding our growth and our knowledge of other cultures and other people.

I will always be grateful that I actually walked on the Great Wall of China, that I viewed the Taj Mahal, thrilled at the sight of the Grand Canyon, These are treasured memories, but there are also recollections of opportunities to observe ordinary life and ordinary people.

As thrilling as seeing the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa was visiting food and flea markets. While milling around the outdoor stalls I experienced the essence of human nature, unadorned and ordinary in a most extraordinary way. After visiting the austere and grand museums, mosques, churches and cathedrals of each country, the markets contrast in an earthy and human manner, reminding me of our own humanity and our place in the scheme of things.

It’s not surprising that the open-air food markets in France compete with tourist attractions. Even in sophisticated Paris the attendants at those huge forums of food become more human, more vulnerable and more at ease.

In rural France, there are regular market days and, before starting off a trip around Brittany, I obtained a schedule of these market days. Outside of Quimper, I discovered antique faience plates for bargain prices, as well as dried lavender and packets of dry court bouillon in which to poach fish.

I only regret that I had no need of a corset. One enterprising merchant had set up a stand of ladies’ undergarments, including some corsets. I sat at a nearby café dawdling over a cup of tea, hopeful that someone would wander in and try on corsets. My camera stood ready but alas, no comers.

It’s no surprise that the Italian markets are energetic and noisy. Crowds gathered around me as I bargained for a set of antique kitchen utensils. Each person offered their advice and set upon the attendant when they thought he was asking too much. The fruits and vegetables seemed to emerge from some painted masterpiece, and each farm wife was willing to share a favored recipe.

I was fortunate to be in Hamelin, Germany, on their Saturday market day. These markets are a true reflection of the culture, food and philosophy of the country’s people. In true German tradition, the market of Hamelin was well-organized, scrupulously clean, yet there was humor as well. The residents of Hamelin carry on the myth of the Pied Piper with aromatic cookies in the shape of mice and rich black bread made into loaves in the shape of the mythic rodents.

I have hundreds of photographs of markets from all corners of the globe. My favorites are of the Indian markets where the color is dazzling to the eye and fascinating to the soul. Splashes of brilliant colors from the saris and head scarves vie with mounds of aromatic spices, fragrant mangoes, tamarinds, bananas, limes, curries and tea.

Just a few hours after I arrived in New Delhi, I was taken to the old city, the center of commerce for ordinary Indians. Along with display after display of spices, fruits and vegetables there were stalls selling filmy saris, sandals, incense, sewing supplies, auto parts, religious objects and even gold and silver. One may get a haircut, have ear wax removed and be fitted for glasses.

In Calcutta, I lived with a wonderful family and each day I went to the flower market and spent hours in the sea of color and amazing aromas, much like jewels set into a desolate landscape.

Lest you get the impression that I scoff at Georgio, Valentino, Gucci, Fendi and other purveyors of luxuries, let me assure you that along with market marveling, I’m apt to be found browsing at emporiums of style and chic. But, after all, they are markets also — the difference is the price tag, the attitude, the merchandise and the value of the experience.

ASK DORIS

Q: My husband and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary in Venice at the Cipriani. One day at lunch we had the most incredible cold pasta salad with fresh vegetables. Is there any chance that you might have such a recipe?

— Donna Garrison, Naples

A: This recipe comes from a cookbook written by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey. It sounds so good; I’m going to make it myself.

COLD SPAGHETTI PRIMAVERA

INGREDIENTS

4 asparagus spears

1 or 2 zucchini (about ½ pound)

½ cup fresh green peas (I think frozen will do as well)

1 cup broccoli, cut into small flowerets

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ pound spaghetti

¼ pound mushrooms, about 1-1/2 cup, sliced

2 cups fresh tomatoes cut into ½-inch cubes

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

1-1/2 cups best available mayonnaise or home-made if you’re ambitious

2 teaspoons of finely chopped garlic (more if you prefer)

2 tablespoons white vinegar

½ cup toasted pine nuts

DIRECTIONS

Trim and scrape the asparagus. Cut each spear on the bias into 1-inch lengths.

Trim off the ends of the zucchini and slice it lengthwise into quarters. Cut each quarter crosswise into ½-inch-thick pieces. There should be about 2 cups.

Use separate saucepans to cook the asparagus, zucchini, peas and broccoli. Add enough water to each saucepan to cover the vegetables when added. Add salt to taste to each one. Add the vegetables to each saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cook the vegetables until crisp-tender. Cook the peas and asparagus about 1 minute or longer, depending on age. Cook the broccoli and zucchini for 5 minutes or less. The vegetables must be crisp and not overcooked. As each vegetable is cooked drain and set aside.

Break the spaghetti strands in half and cook in boiling salted water until tender, about 7 to 8 minutes.

Drain and run briefly under cold water. Drain thoroughly.

Place spaghetti in a mixing bowl and add the cooked vegetables plus the mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh basil and parsley.

Blend the mayonnaise, garlic and vinegar in a small bowl and add to the spaghetti and vegetable mixture. Taste and adjust seasonings. Toss to blend.

Sprinkle with the pine nuts and serve. May be served room temperature or cold.

Makes 8 servings.

Doris Reynolds is the author of “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried” and “Let’s Talk Food.” They are available in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a four-part DVD, “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds”. For comments and questions regarding today’s column, contact Doris Reynolds at foodlvr25@aol.com.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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