Supermarkets haven’t destroyed farmers, although they have made their lives a lot harder. It’s not rare to see a weekend outdoor farmer’s market in the US, but in Italia, where I come from, they work every day. Italy’s outdoor market, the popular mercati is what makes it great. That’s Italy.
Imagine stalls and booths with Italian men and women behind them, selling basically everything—from five different varieties of tomatoes to prosciutto and other various types of deli meat, fresh baked bread with olives, butchered lamb meat, fish and wine: wines from the local region, homemade, tasty, rich in flavor.
Italians don’t go to the local outdoor food market just to fill out their fridge; they go to fill out their senses with sound and smell. You pass by a stall that sells fresh smoked cheese with basil, you can hear the wine being poured, you can smell the fresh bread and it will stimulate your appetite. Passing by the flowers you remember the games you used to play when you were a kid in your garden, just before your mother called out for you to come inside because it’s dinner time. “Come”, the old vendor says with its strong baritone voice, “try this prosciutto, you’ll love it”. And you do.
You can find everything there, from healthy food to clothing, shoes, souvenirs, flowers and cookware. They are opened every day of the week, except for some Sundays.
But, even if you live in Italy, not every product is of best quality, and that can be applied to the market places everywhere. There’s a great tip: follow the old lady. In Italia we call them nonne which basically means grandmother, but it can be applied to any old skillful lady. Italians are traditional and the roles in family are pretty much known in advance. Nonne have been cooking for their families for decades and they know which tomato is best for spaghetti, what meat goes in it and where to find it. They are, how should we say it, the best source of information as they have probably been patrons of the local mercati for those same decades. That wisdom has been transferred through generations and when you spot one, and it’s easy to so because they carry a canvas bag designed to pile in as much excellent products as possible to carry home and cook for their loved ones, follow them and take notes. They will take you to the right guy.
If there isn’t one in sight, you can spot a quality vendor just by pure observation. He is the guy behind a stall where people are waiting to be served. This is how you spot a true fair one. If there are up to five people waiting to be served, the product offered is a good one, and if there are more than five people in front of the booth, get in the line. Nonne know why.
If you are wondering why I wrote this article, it is because I am an advocate of healthy, homemade food, and I want to create a desire in you for the food that exudes the perfect smell of flavor and taste. I have learned a lot from my nonna. Just add raw vegetables and fruit to your meal and you will achieve that. Italians cook pasta as basics and they just add in sauce, cheese, meat: the things they have in the fridge, and a lot of salad.
This is not a big diet change. It is just a way to healthier and tastier food.