I still tend to get a little intimidated by the amazing markets of Europe. Markets like La Boqueria in Barcelona, which receives so much tourist traffic, is an easy market to navigate. Many of the stall owners are used to travelers traversing the narrow walkways snapping photos. It is the more traditional markets, the ones like Mercato Albinelli, the Modena food market, which still intimidate me.
Anytime that I am in a foreign country and I am treading on the daily activities of locals with my camera in hand, I worry that I am creating a spectacle of their lives. I never want to interfere and I am always hesitant, until I get an okay or a nod. It is not because people are defensive, on-guard or anti-tourist in any way. Instead, it is my own insecurity as a photographer and an observer of other cultures.
In the Modena food market though, this was certainly not a problem. I don’t think it is because Modena is such a well-touristed city. The opposite is the case, as Modena remains a city that is truly Italian and virtually untouched by the tourism that affects cities like Rome.
I believe the Modena food market is so approachable because Emilia Romagna is a region of die hard foodies, and has been since well before the phrase foodie became popular. The region is one that focuses on local products, and excels in retaining their food history. And they know it.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the historic Modena food market.
Exploring the Modena Food Market
As far as markets in Europe go, the Modena food market is not huge. It is a pretty compact space, but it holds so many magical stands in that petite building. Similar to the Santa Catarina market, in my opinion the best food market in Barcelona, the architecture and lighting of the Mercato Albinelli just highlights how fresh the foods are.
The original Modena food market was over a thousand years old, but it was not until 1931 that the town’s market was moved into its current space. The covered market is stunning, with wrought iron spirals, large columns and even a statue of a little girl with a basket of flowers at the heart of the building. The center court statue lent an air of sophistication to the market, like they realized the building houses amazing pieces of artwork. And by artwork, I mean food!
Although the market had stunning displays of typical market fare, like fresh flowers and locally grown fruits and vegetables, it was the particularly Italian uniqueness that drew me in.
Along the edges are specialized stalls, with descriptive names like the Casa del Formaggio, or house of cheese.
Other stalls specialized in horse meat. Although I never tried it, I was amazed at the deep red hues of the flesh. Perhaps during my next visit.
It was mushroom season when we visited the Modena food market, and I was captivated by the texture of so many mushrooms, of all different varieties.
It was also truffle season, and after going truffle hunting and having a decadent truffle dinner at nearby Amerigo, it was unique to see stands of truffles, or tartufo, offering delicacies to the locals, and I am sure to local chefs.
A corner wine stand offered bottles of the local sparkling red wine, Lambrusco, for next to nothing.
Prepared Food at the Modena Food Market
And the prepared foods were freshly and beautifully displayed. We were on our way out of Modena, so it was hard to pick up fresh pasta or salads, but we bought a bit of prosciutto and other cured meats, along with some Italian cheese, to take to our hotel for our last night in Italy before flying to Greece. When we attempted to buy two simple rolls from a baker, he gave them to us for free. He is probably used to old nonnas, or grandmothers, coming in to buy for their entire family, but the gesture was not lost on me for sure.
When vendors were not busy selling to the Modenese people, preparing for their evening meals, they had no problems with me snapping photos of their food. After all, they know how good their products look and taste, and how important it is to document the food traditions of Modena, Emilia Romagna and beyond.
More About Our Trip
The Mercato Albinelli food market in Modena operates Monday through Saturday most months of the year and is located in a smaller square just steps from the Duomo, or main cathedral of Modena.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now. If you are a NOOK reader, it is also available for download on Barnes and Noble.
We were supported during our tour by Emilia Romagna Tourism, but all of my opinions, and all of my yummy sounds, are of course my own. For information on the Mercato Albinelli, the Modena food market, or tours, contact the Modena tourism office or Modenatur.
For more about the food in Emilia Romagna, check out our Emilia Romagna Food Travel Guide.