La Merced market in Mexico City, spreading over several city blocks and bursting at the seams with mountains of chiles and moles, acres of corn and squashes, and redolent of the aroma of Mexican cooking. Or La Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona, situated just off Las Ramblas, where butcher shops display transparent slices of serrano ham, the fish stalls present the bounty of the Mediterranean on ice, and pyramids of lemons, oranges and tangerines tower over the fruit vendors' stalls. Vancouver's Granville Island Public Market doesn't have the lengthy history of its cousins in Mexico or Spain but it encapsulates what current Pacific Northwest gastronomy is all about - wild sockeye salmon, fresh cherries and berries, locally-sourced, organic pork and beef and in August and September the world's best peaches and apricots.
The Mercado Municipal da Cantareira in São Paulo is worthy of a prominent place in this pantheon of great markets. Known affectionately by Paulistanos as the Mercadão, meaning "big market', the Mercado Municipal in its vast space illuminated by stained-glass windows houses not only stands selling fruits, vegetables, spices, meat, poultry and seafood, but also a mezzanine lined with restaurants overlooking the action below and offering everything from simple snacks and home-cooking to up-to-the-minute, avant-garde contemporary gastronomy.
Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932, during which time the still-unfinished building served as headquarters for the military and as a warehouse for arms and munition. It was only on January 25, 1933, the birthday of the city of São Paulo, that the market finally opened for its original purpose.
The huge central space of the Mercado Municipal is light and airy thanks to the high clerestory windows which allow abundant daylight to reach even into the center aisles of the market. Along the front facade ranges a series of enormous stained-glass windows which are the work of Germano-Brazilian artist Conrado Sorgenicht Filho and which celebrate the daily lives of agricultural workers during the golden age of São Paulo's coffee economy.
25 de Março Street, an open-air market selling everything imaginable from pirated CDs and DVDs through appliances and washing machines to high-end designer goods (real and knock-offs). Plan a visit to the Mercado Municipal in the morning, making your way on foot from the nearest Metro station, São Bento, along 25 de Março and plan to arrive at the market by 11 a.m. This will give you time to explore the stalls and stands on the main floor, and then, when your appetite has been thoroughly aroused, ascend to the mezzanine between noon and 1 p.m. to choose between the dozens of options for lunch. When you depart after lunch, satiated and satisfied, you'll have gained an insight into São Paulo and its food culture better and will carry among memories this great market in one of the world's largest megalopolises.