Food Markets of the World
Nelli Sheffer and Mimi Sheraton

1997. 205 pages, 30 recipes.

Go To Cookbook Archive

"For the traveler, markets provide valuable insight into foreign cultures, affording one of the few windows on real life open to strangers." -Mimi Sheraton

-Gingered Chickpeas

-Cinnamon Stars

Chicken and Peanut Soup

Food Markets of the World is available for easy online purchase right now at Click the Amazon icon for current prices.

OK, here's a hypothetical situation. You've arrived in a fascinating city in some far off land. You have only two hours to spend in this city. You have a choice: You can go to the museum that Fodor's says is a must-see for tourists or you can go to the open-air market and rub shoulders with the locals.

There's no question I'd get my string bag, camera and phrase book and head to where the food is. It's not that I don't like museums, but there's something about a marketplace that's so thrilling, confusing, mysterious, and "real", that I don't feel I've visited a city until I've visited its market.

Food Markets of the World is the next best thing to being there. Whether "there" is the My Tho market on the Me Kong Delta, or the colorful cacophany of a souk in Marrakesh, or the snow-frosted Advent market in Munich. Once you open this book you're on a six-continent tour making stops at fifty markets along the way. Photographer Nelli Sheffer's big, juicy color pictures pull you right into the hurly burly of the marketplace so effectively that the sounds and smells seem to spring from the pages.

Veteran food writer and inveterate market lover, Mimi Sheraton provides in words what Sheffer does in pictures. (Markets are practically in her genes; the daughter of a wholesale produce seller, she loved her childhood trips to Manhattan's Washington Market.) Like the best tour guides, she adds depth to your experience. She observes that "India's markets, although as crowded as those in the rest of Asia, emit softer sounds of a different language and voice pitch, and more mellow and familiar scents." She notes the spicy scents, especially that of cloves, in the Nairobi markets and the potent pungence of the fish pastes in South East Asian markets.

Visually, this is like Family of Man goes to the market place. Except Sheffer doesn't give into pat sentimentality. (No photos of cute little pets with winsome children.....although there is a picture of a cute little pig with a cute little boy; but this pig is on his way to slaughter.) Sheffer knows how to be artful without getting arty. When he does focus on the food, he shows the glory and the grit. (No pristine Edward Weston-esque close-ups of peppers.)

Sheffer captures the tumult and humanity of the marketplace. There's the woman whose arm is up to her elbow in the radish display, expressing that univeral hunch that the best is buried at the bottom. There's the Vietnamese fish merchant hurrying over a bridge with a huge block of ice (already starting to melt) hoisted on his shoulder. There's the dramatic close-up portrait of five market porters in the Delhi market, hooking us with their unflinching gazes.

Food Markets of the World offers a unique opportunity for us market lovers to do page-by-page, market-by-market comparisons. In the Lyons market the bowls of apples are lined up with loving precision. In the rural Peruvian market of Pisac, the display of many varieties of potatoes makes an artful free-form mosaic. There's the storybook magical abundance of holiday sweets in Munich's Advent market.

One of the frustrating aspects of prowling foreign markets is encountering alien foods and not having the language to ask about them. (When I visited markets in Burma I was confronted with so much mystery produce that the few I recognized - pineapples and bananas- seemed like dear old friends from home.) For each section, Sheraton gives a brief run down on some of the unique foods and spices of the region. (I really could have used Sheraton's descriptive list of South East Asian fruits on my trip.)

This is far more of a look-book than a cookbook. However, there are thirty recipes scattered throughout. Hunting for them is a "Where'sWaldo?"-like exercise since their whereabouts is not noted in the table of contents nor in the index. These are not reader-friendly recipes; the ingredients are not listed separately from the directions; you're stuck wading through one long densely-packed paragraph. I blame the graphic designer, Carol Robson, for sacrificing clarity for some ethos of design purity. (Other than this, I can't fault her clean and powerful design.) Luckily the dishes I tried were more edible than the recipes were readable. The African Chicken and Peanut Soup was hearty and filling; the little bit of ginger kept the chicken and peanut butter from being too heavy. (I also used less peanut butter.) The Cinammon Stars had a festive holiday-bakery taste (the nuts and meringue combo?) The directions said to roll out the dough and cut it into star shapes. My dough had the consistency of lava, so I, in desperation, poured it in a pan and spread it around before baking it. The results were homely and crumbly, but good.

Of course, recipes are really not the point here. This book is primarily a trip into (in Sheraton's words) "...the sweet disorder of scents, sights, and sounds" of the market places of the world.