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The 5 best food markets in Italy

Andy Stevens / 14 September 2016

Food markets are a huge part of Italy's revered live-to-eat culture. Here are five of the best food markets for you to enjoy when you visit Italy.

Mercato Centrale, Bologna
Mercato Centrale, Bologna © Liudmila Ermolenko / Shutterstock

Mercato Centrale, Bologna

The world-feted gastronomic glories of the Emilia-Romagna region are, as you'd expect, among the star turns of the Italian gourmet's paradise which is Bologna's main market.

At Mercato Centrale you can pick up the finest prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, olive oils, balsamic vinegars and other superlative cheeses such as mortadella, all proudly for sale or just sheer delectation on their home territory.

The market area in central Bologna's maze of medieval streets - collectively called il Quadrilatero - has a ready-made atmosphere perfect for an amble to soak up the sights and sounds.

You simply can't pay lip service to Bologna's foodie fame, of course, without sampling its most famous dish in its place of provenance - bolognese, done the proper way with a deeply flavoursome ragu, that's all about simplicity and quality of produce. 

The best place in Bologna's market district for authentic bolognese is in the cafe beside the venerable AF Tamburini, a shop which is a city institution in itself, selling every kind of fresh pasta you'll ever conceivably need to know about.

Related: What makes Italy such a great holiday destination?

Rialto markets, Venice

An early start is the order of the day if you want to see Venice's centuries-old Rialto markets in their full dramatic flow, befitting the city on the canals which is itself pure theatre. 

From 8am until lunchtime, Tuesday to Saturday, it's market time alongside the banks of the Grand Canal near the focal point that is Venice's Rialto Bridge.

The locals flock in their droves, and the beauty of the Rialto markets lies in that very authenticity, with the tourists outnumbered by Venetians (early on, at least) doing their daily food shop.

Be sure to savour the colour and atmosphere of the Pescheria, Rialto's neo-Gothic fish market, and the nearby Erberia (vegetable market) on the right bank of the Grand Canal. 

At the Pescheria, local shoppers and Venice restaurateurs haggle with market traders over the freshest catches of the day and all manner of splendid seafood that will have you thinking 'lunch' in no time.

Related: Discover Venice on a river cruise along the Italian waterways.

Sant'Ambrogio market, Florence

In a building dating back to the 1860s on Florence's Piazza Ghiberti you'll discover Sant'Ambrogio, the epitome of a Tuscan market and all that entails: namely, the finest and freshest of the region's natural bounty, including flowers and plants. 

Among the sumptuous stacks of sun-blessed fruit and vegetables, the sight and smell of piles of fresh Italian breads will catch your senses, while pasta, meat and fish also figure prominently among the market's main offerings.

Sant'Ambrogio is a mile or so from the sometimes stifling tourist heart of Florence, and pleasingly has more of a homely local vibe than the central market where most the crowds tend to flock. 

And while you're taking in the whole experience, try to grab a table for a bite to eat at the market's vibrant Rocco trattoria for the best Florentine neighbourhood food with a non-hefty bill to boot.

Related: Planning a holiday to Italy? Discover our favourite regions.

Ballaro market, Palermo, Sicily

Tucked in narrow streets off the Piazza Carmine, Ballaro market is a feast for the senses and something of a showcase for Sicilian street food. 

Among the cold meats, cheeses, olives, capers, anchovies and more - and even vintage clothing - if you love a bit of grazing on the go, this fascinating street market is a must.

There are plentiful stalls selling traditional snack specialities singular to the island's proud capital that give you the true flavours of Sicily in a market reputed to be Palermo's oldest, dating back to the 10th century.

One Ballaro speciality certain to give your tastebuds a treat is pane con panelle, a simple but absolute gem of a sandwich comprising deep-fried chickpeas and sliced aubergines in a panini.

Then there's sfinicione, a focaccia bread base slathered in fresh tomato and herbs that's considerably more pleasurable to eat than it is to pronounce!

Related: Discover Sicily for yourself on Saga’s ‘Seriously Sicily’ tour.

Covered Market, Lecce

The sun-kissed southern city of Lecce is emerging from the long shadows of its more northerly Italian rivals such as Florence.

The capital of Puglia's Salento region, Lecce is in turn capturing more hearts and drawing in more visitors, thanks in part to its grand Roman and Baroque architecture in the city's distinctive white-gold stone.

And also the region's sumptuous local food. Let's not forget the food. 

'Made in Salento' is a badge of quality and locality you will see in plentiful supply when food shopping in Lecce, including its homely covered market near the city gate, Porta Rudiae. 

At the market there's your expected Italian bounty of regional cheeses, seasonal vegetables and fruit, straight from local farms to stalls, plus stacks of seriously tempting breads and pastries, olives, spices, plus both fresh and cooked meats. 

Related: The best Italian food and drink.

Discover the joy of Italian food for yourself on one of Saga’s holidays to Italy.



The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.