One of the best ways to get a taste of authentic Italian life and culture is to go to a local open-air market. These markets are vibrant, colorful, and so full of life and energy. As food is such a big part of Italian culture, this is one scene where you can not only find fresh, organic food among other items, but it’s also a great way to learn more about the region and meet the locals. And it’s a great place to do some people watching. However, because these markets are generally geared toward locals and not tourists, they can be a little overwhelming for visitors. But don’t worry; with a little preparation, you can enjoy Italian open-air markets like a local. Here are six tips for navigating your way through an Italian open-air market.
1. Know Some Basic Italian Vocabulary
Everything at an open-air market will be in Italian, so it will be helpful to know a few common Italian words and phrases to help with communication. It may even be a good idea to translate your shopping list into Italian before you visit the market, so that you will be familiar with words to look for or so you can at least point to the word on your list for the vendors. One important thing to remember is that Italy runs on the metric system, so food will typically be bought in kilograms (chilo), which is just over two pounds or etti (etto), which is a 10th of a kilogram. If you want a smaller portion of food, you can simply ask for the number of items you want (“Prendo due banane” or “I’ll take two bananas”). It is also helpful to be familiar with the Italian numbers 1-10 for weight and pricing comprehension.
Some basic market vocab:
Quanto costa? How much is it?
Di più More
Di meno Less
Prendo I’ll take
Per favore Please
2. Don’t Touch the Produce at the Market
This market rule may go against our American tendency of testing quality ourselves, but it’s important to follow out of respect for the vendors and for hygienic purposes. At most stands, you will tell the vendor what you want and they will choose it for you, which requires you to trust that the vendor has good intentions and will choose well. Some vendors will give you permission to choose your own produce by handing you a plastic or paper bag to put the food in. In this case, you should still limit the amount of produce you handle.
3. Bring Your Own Bag to the Market
Although food vendors will provide small plastic or paper bags to separate your produce, you will have to pay a few cents extra for a bag to carry it all in. Because of this, most Italians bring their own reusable bags or food carts to carry their groceries in. Bringing your own bag to the market will save on both money and waste.
4. Be Prepared with Your Money at the Market
Italian open-air markets will accept cash only for purchasing produce and other items. So it’s important to bring enough cash with you to cover your purchases. In addition to this, it’s helpful to carry small change instead of big bills. Italians appreciate exact change, and some vendors will get frustrated if you hand them 20 euro for a bag of apples that cost 1,50 euro.
5. Keep Your Eyes Open at the Market
Before making any purchases, it’s helpful to do a quick walk-through of the market. This is a great way to find out what stands sell what. It’s also a great way to find the lines. If you come upon a stand with a long line of people, you can be sure that the food here will be top quality. Although the lines may seem chaotic, pay attention to who came before you out of respect. If you’re unsure, you can ask, “Chi é l’ultimo?” (“Who is last?”) or you can wait for the vendor to address you. In addition, because these open-air markets can be busy and chaotic, keep your eyes open and be cautious with your valuables. You don’t have to be paranoid, just be aware of your surroundings.
6. Know When the Markets are Open
Before you make the journey to an open-air market, make sure you know the times and days that it is open. In smaller towns, markets may only be open a couple of days a week. In bigger cities such as Rome, however, local markets may be open almost every day. Typically, markets will open in the early morning and shut down in the early afternoon. You can find out when markets are open by doing online research, asking a local, or inquiring at a local tourist information center.
By following these tips, you can make the most of your market experience in Italy. Be confident and friendly with the people you interact with, and you might make a few friends. A friendly smile from you may just convince Paolo at the vegetable stand to throw an extra zucchini into your bag. ~ Kalina Davis
Who we are:
Once in a Lifetime Travel is a passionately run company focused on mindful and fearless travel through authentic experiences and connections. We feature small, fully
guided group tours to Italy for women
Italian travel consultant
services feature focused itinerary reviews and detailed
Italy travel planning.
Go Travel, and Travel Fearless.
Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel
Where in Italy do you belong?
A 23 day journey across Italy, delivered straight to your email.
Find your Italy.