We cannot overstate our love for, and reliance on, European food markets. We seek them out for people watching, beautiful food photos and when we just cannot agree on what to eat. When there are twenty-five vendors at our disposal, no one ever has to compromise.
Pasta for me, sushi for him. Story of our lives.
Nearly every major European city has a food market or two. You may have heard of a few of the most famous. La Boqueria, Barcelona’s homage to its food-centered culture, is certainly worth a visit, if only for the fresh juice stalls – photogenic and delicious. And London’s Borough Market is deservedly well known, but it’s also insanely busy, thanks to its prominence in guide books.
When we travel, we like to dig a little deeper, searching out small food halls that cater to the locals with a magical mix of tempting food and drink in a comfortable and usually funky setting. Over the years we’ve uncovered a few of the most well-curated, fantastic food markets around the continent, but we’ve kept them to ourselves.
We just don’t want these amazing spaces to trade their authenticity for traffic.
But, no more. Without further ado, here are the best underrated European food markets around. They get the official seal of approval from a couple of food obsessives, which is always a good thing.
A bartender gave us the tip – the best food in Stockholm was not to be found in a grand restaurant on the waterfront but in a humble stall inside a food court. When we ducked into the dim light of K25, home to eleven vendors and space to seat roughly 250 guests, we were like two kids in a candy store. We raced up and down the hall, quickly assessing if we were in the mood for Thai curry, or Chinese buns or maybe a bit of Vietnamese pho. All three, it turns out. If we lived in Stockholm, we would come here every day. Full stop.
Food bloggers are a great source for market research and thanks to several tips we got reading blogs of enthusiastic eaters, we knew we were in good hands heading down a side street to Mathallen. Mathallen houses prepared food vendors as well as more traditional market stalls with fresh ingredients to bring home. And it’s pretty big, so we decided to divide and conquer, picking out the best bites for our lunch. A tasty fried chicken sandwich and a whole store selling mini pies (the sweet kind) are the best memories.
Ok, listen to this crazy story. The city magazine, Time Out, which publishes weekly in many cities worldwide, took on this project to revitalize one of Lisbon’s oldest markets. They asked many of Lisbon’s top restaurants to create mini versions within the historic building, and before they knew it, there were 35 vendors and a massive space for customers ready to take Lisbon’s food scene to the next level. It has been bustling ever since.
As one article puts it, Testaccio market is not just a practical spot to get your groceries, but also a staple hangout among locals. When the old Testaccio Market was moved and upgraded in 2012, it was done to the wary skepticism of locals. Fortunately, after a few early missteps, everyone seems to be on board with this lovely market, one of our favorites in one of the best food countries of all. There is a stall here known for its brisket sandwich, Mordi e Vai, and we stand by its popularity. It was amazing.
Down a side street in El Born, in the shadows of La Boqueria, Barcelona’s famous market, we found Mercat Princesa. It appeared innocent enough from the outside, an unassuming facade that we thought led to a single restaurant. Were we mistaken. The stone room opened up to reveal a virtual food heaven, 17 vendors selling everything from cocktails to burgers to tacos. No vendor veers too far from the traditional Spanish flavors, but if you like everything a little spicy and filled with chorizo (my single favorite Spanish ingredient of all time), you’ve come to the right place. We spent an entire night here and would do it again in a heartbeat.
Who doesn’t love a Cinderella story? 120 years after its original opening in Kreuzberg’s Eisenbahnstraße, Markthalle Neun reopened in 2011 offering a wide variety of options for all kinds of Berliners. Six days per week, there are a wide variety of typical vendors – butchers, bakeries, pasta, fish and even handmade tofu. Three days a week, other traditional offerings join the party. Thursday nights are dedicated to street food, one morning a month is a Breakfast Market, and once a quarter the whole space becomes a full-on snack market. Side note: the big photo up top is of a steamed bun at K25 in Stockholm, but the most popular stall at Markthalle IX is also a bun stall. Buns for everyone!
We didn’t get into our favorite London markets here because, frankly, we are sick of writing about them. If there is any topic we’ve officially exhausted, this is it. But, if for some reason you haven’t yet read our encyclopedias of what to eat at the best London food markets, you can find some here: Brixton Market, Broadway Market, Dalston Street Feast, Maltby Market, and Camden Market.
What is your favorite European food market? We are off on a big Europe swing this autumn and need plenty of recommendations! Drop us a note below…