Peppers at the local market are so sweet in Greece that they rival strawberries for flavor, and they have such a high water content that you’d think you’re eating an orange. Large tomatoes are firm, bright red and sweeter and juicier than cherry tomatoes. Their vines smell of the earth, and when topping avocado toast or eaten with fine mozzarella they become a sweet and satisfying complete meal. In Greece and Israel during special times of the year you can find fresh garlic by the bushel, various species of avocados, persimmons, dates, and countless herbs and spices. Each country’s market has its own flavor and character, and getting to know the market gives you a glimpse into the culture and the people that work to make it thrive.
Local markets are especially vital for those choosing to build their lives in a foreign country. Local tourist restaurants can be a whirlwind of fun for two-week vacationers, but if you're a true digital nomad/expat, you'll eventually long for the ability to create culinary splendor in your newly adopted home, whipping up exotic dishes or even comfort foods with a local twist like only you can, and it's the ingredients you pick up from the local market that will serve as the foundation for your culinary creations . Every town in Europe has them. But let’s not forget Asia, Central and South America and…probably most cities and towns around the world. Each will have a unique vibe and food selection of its own! So immediately upon reaching your accommodations in your bright and beautiful new land, one of the first questions you should ask is “Where’s the local market, and when is it open?”
Local market off Veikou Street in Athens, Greece
The great news is local markets not only benefit your health and your tastebuds, but they also greatly benefit the local economy. In Europe produce is grown in-country or at least in Europe, and as a result of this local and short supply chain, they are so fresh they can last in cooler storage places out of the refrigerator for up to three weeks! This I have personally tested many times upon forgetting about a pepper or two as it's rolled behind something on the counter. Buying local is an incredible way for you to give back and invest in the community that has become your new home and so graciously embraced you. The supply chain for your tomato contains not only the farmer and the friendly retailer at the booth, but also often a wholesaler positioned between the two, buying in bulk from a larger market in the center of the country and selling to the tomato vendor who brings them by the pickup truck full to sell a couple at a time on the corner of your street. Depending on the item, you generally pay less than at the grocery store while still leaving room for a profit for the vendor.
Vendors are kind, knowledgeable about their goods and a backbone of their local communities. Many of them have passed down licenses to sell in their booths from generation to generation. Some share coffee with neighbor vendors. Stronger gentlemen help older ladies get umbrellas set up to shield them from head and the beating sun. Kids bike around delivering water on the hotter days, and teenagers sit in between vendors and smile as they become part of the scene by adding live folk music to the lively atmosphere. These people are authentic in their interactions, put their hearts and smiles into their service and are proud to have vast amounts of wisdom concerning picking the best produce, when each variety is in season and how to cook each item in order to bring out the subtleties that make them special. Talk to them, promote them with your business, honor them with your kindness. Your stomach and your pocketbook will thank you, and you’ll be on your way to experiencing part of what it means to be a local!
There are a few logistics to be aware of. Markets can be open daily, once a week, once a month, on rotating days and even on rotating streets. Vendors may or may not speak English, can have advertised, fixed prices per kilo or variable prices depending on the time of day or amount of produce available. Credit cards may be accepted, but it is often advisable to use cash as it saves money for the vendors in percentages charged on the transaction, as well as protects you from any accidental double charges on your card or a confusing name on your credit card statement online.
Should you consider these to be impediments to acquiring the raw materials you need to create the avocado toast of your dreams? Of course not! Shopping local is one of the beautiful benefits of expat life; fresh, cheap, nourishing food.
And this benefit is huge. Think about it. As an American I'm no stranger to the fact that fruits, veggies, nuts, etc. I buy in the States, whether purchased at the grocery store, fastfood restaurant or a sit-down establishment are highly processed and often full of corn starch, refined sugar, growth hormones or antibiotics. Tomatoes in particular can be genetically engineered, bred to be picked green so that they have time to ripen throughout the supply chain, reaching my local supermarket supposedly red and juicy, but in reality, half-green and tasting like nothing. There’s always the organic option, but it’s pricey, at times unreliable, and the stock turns over slowly due to a higher price point so it's hard for stores to keep fresh options stocked on the shelves.
Local market off Veikou Street in Athens, Greece
So whether you work from home with a living room view opening up to the Greek islands or for a multi-national corporation with offices in downtown Zurich or Milan, it's vital as a global citizen to expand your network and take the time to get to know people in your sphere of influence. A great way to start with this is the local, open air markets! Close your eyes and listen for the hustle, bustle and the trailing folk music. You'll find an open air market and hopefully make some new friends!
Interested in the digital nomad life? Why not speak with one of our community experts and get tailored insight into making it a reality.
written by Kari Wiedenhaupt, Project Manager for Relocate