Of all the ways to gain a true impression of a city, a visit to the local market is perhaps the most enjoyable. The best markets, as well as being places to pick up foods and souvenirs, offer clues to the history of the area and the culture of the locals, a topic set to be explored by Billingsgate market trader Roger Barton in a new UK TV series, World's Greatest Food Markets.
Here are six of the world's best markets that are not to be missed.
La Boqueria, Barcelona
Dating back to the 1200s, when it was a travelling market for stallholders from around Catalonia, La Boqueria has a history as colourful as its fruit and vegetable stalls - and there are certainly plenty of those. In its time, the market has moved and changed so much it is barely recognisable from old photographs. It first existed outside the city limits, with no set structure and no roof. Today it is the largest covered market in the region, and some of the stallholders are fourth-generation traders.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Half the fun of the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, is in getting lost. At one time, every square here was dedicated to a different profession and its wares - but today, while some of this organisation remains, it is more of a jumble. The scale of the place makes shopping exciting; because it has such a multitude of stalls, you never quite know what you are going to find. If you don't fancy haggling, it is enough just to take a walk around. The bazaar is home to two mosques, four fountains and two hammams. Don't forget to look up - the vaulted ceilings are beautiful.
Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
Rise with the lark if you want to see one of the best and most popular attractions Tokyo has to offer: its fish market. Public registration to enter the tuna auctions (one of the big lures) begins at 4.30am and by 9am everything is winding down. One in 10 fish caught in the world is eaten in Japan, and a visit here will illustrate just how important fish is in Japanese food culture, as plenty of yen are thrown around in pursuit of the freshest catch.
Even if you don't want to buy, the huge fish laid out on ice slabs, together with smaller but no less intriguing Pacific sea creatures dotted around the stalls, make for an interesting museum (salesmen frown upon taking photos, though). The hook for foreign visitors who are unlikely to have their own kitchen is the sushi. Bars here offer some of the best in the city.
Chatuchak Market, Bangkok
A short train ride out of the centre of Bangkok, Chatuchak is a kind of city in itself. This huge market sells everything from knock-off handbags to puppies (neither of which are wise purchases) and lots of much nicer things in between. Silks, suits, spices - everything you could ever want or need is here, sold by Thai stallholders who brandish calculators ready to do fast deals with the buying public (they price high to haggle). The market might be large (covering about 14 hectares), but the walkways are narrow, and they really pack it in - there are an estimated 15,000 stalls. Helpfully, Chatuchak is divided by types of produce - so if you know what you want, you needn't traipse around the whole lot (a feat which is probably impossible in one day anyway).
Pike Place Market, Seattle
At almost 100 years old, Pike Place Market has long been the anchor for the rest of the city of Seattle. From its neon entry sign to the white wood panelling of its interior, it has an appealing vintage feel. Built into a hillside overlooking Elliott Bay, the market is still the place where most Seattle-ites buy their fresh goods, and visitors just "browsing" should be warned not to get in the way of real trade. There are a few touristy-type stalls, but for wow factor the flowers can't be beaten. Row upon row of huge, colourful blooms decorate the top floor. Pike Place isn't huge in comparison to the great markets of the rest of the world, but there's a rich offering on every level, including vintage film memorabilia and Americana. There are also a few good seafood restaurants, and a plate of oysters caught from the Puget Sound is the best way to round off a visit.
St Lawrence Market, Toronto
Arguably the best food market in Canada, the St Lawrence Market is the place to find fresh food in Toronto. The South Market is home to 120 permanent food vendors housed in a warehouse building with beautiful industrial-age touches. There's plenty of "eat now" food on offer too, and the inventiveness of the stalls might leave you feeling as if your own culinary skills are lacking (if so, there's also a Market Kitchen with cooking classes).
The North Market dates back to 1803 and sells food on a Saturday and antiques on a Sunday. The big cheese at the farmer's market is, well, the cheese. Hundreds of different delicious varieties are on offer.
Tips on how to haggle
Roger Barton shares his tips on haggling and getting the best out of a market.
1. For a bargain, go towards the end of the market. You are taking a gamble because lots of stuff will have gone, but you are much more likely to get a bit of money off when the traders really need to sell something.
2. If you want the full market experience, arrive early. Take a good look around, have a cup of tea and take in the feel of the market. How much of everything does there appear to be? Have a look at the lorries unloading to get a clearer idea. Is there a difference in quality between one stall and another? This will account for variations in price and help inform your purchase.
3. Buy in bigger quantities to get a better price. Ask relatives if they want something from the market. By offering to buy in bulk, you have a bit more power to bring the price down.
4. In some markets the price is the price, and you won't get anywhere by haggling. Have an idea of the culture of the market before you go. If you do haggle, try and build up a rapport first. Market traders are likely to want to sell more to you than you have in mind, so have a good idea of what you want beforehand.
5. Cash is still king. Unlike the rest of the world, market traders still deal largely in cash. It will make you more appealing as a buyer if you do, too.
6. Quality varies wildly between stalls - remember: you can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.
7. Most stall holders will be experts in what they are selling - don't forget to ask them how to get the best out of your purchase, whether it's how to cook a particular fish, or how to best care for a piece of jewellery.
The Telegraph, London