A Morning at the Markets


If you have to do your shopping here on a Saturday, it is best to get in early. The often huge throngs of people surrounding the bancarelle (stalls) at the local markets can be quite intimidating to the uninitiated. It’s not just apples,  pumpkins and other current seasonal delights that people want to buy though. Paolo, my local butcher, also has his biggest trading day on a Saturday. After a long week at work, it’s normal to want to take things easy and not rush things at the weekends. When you have a human alarm o’clock (i.e. a toddler) to wake you up though, it’s basically a given that you won’t sleep in on a Saturday. Alarm sounds vary from dreaded cries of rage to the far more pleasant (and infectious!) gurgles and giggles. The silver lining to this enforced early rise is not having to deal with large crowds who also want fresh farm produce and the butcher’s choicest cuts.

Anyway, yet another Saturday arrives and my treasured sleep is put to an end by a new ringtone. This time, it’s noise from objects being thrust and thrown around. Somehow, Turin Toddler (TT) has managed to get her hands on some of my cookbooks. There she is, flipping through my copy of Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Cooking Well. Knowing that I will need Artusi’s help for dinner tonight, I attempt to distract her with the more age-appropriate board book I Went Walking. She protests and gestures her preference for my increasingly  dog-eared historical recipe book: ‘Iss! Iss! Iss!’  I end up relenting, as usual. Still feeling a bit sleepy, I’m not in the mood for a tantrum. Somehow, I’ll get my lamb-chop side-burned signore back…

TT, as predicted, soon gets bored with Artusi and finds other objects to amuse herself with. We play together for a while and then proceed with the long and rather drawn-out process of having breakfast. TT would rather throw the brioches that Turin Papà (TP) has bought for us especially from our local pasticceria. Rarely hungry after she wakes up, we let the matter go, eat our own crema pasticcera-filled pastries and sweep the crumbs and flakes that have accumulated under TT’s high chair.

After we shower and get dressed, TP makes his daily inquiry about culinary matters: ‘Cosa mangiamo di buono stasera? (What are we going to eat tonight?)’

‘Risotto alla milanese,’ I respond, knowing that he’ll be pleased. TP loves rice dishes, especially risottos.


Not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm, I neglect to mention my intention to make the dish with bone marrow, as per one of Artusi’s recipes for the dish. With the exception of tripe, TP is not a fan of offal.

I set off for the market in Corso Brunelleschi with TT in her stroller and quickly glance at my watch. It is already 9.40. We’ve been slower than I thought at getting ready. And, like most Saturdays, there is already a good-sized crowd of mostly oldies at one of my favourite market stalls. I’m momentarily put off and consider going to one of the other less crowded stalls.  There is, however, a big advantage to buying fruit and vegetables from Marzia. She is one of the few vendors at the market who has a ticketing system. This may sound extreme but it really is a necessity for vendors wishing to keep the peace.  Many locals, surprisingly enough deceptively sweet-looking  nonni, are often determined to be served as quickly as possible. Some show little to no scruples when it comes to queue-jumping either. Their tactics can range from the sneaky (‘But I only need some eggs/a bunch of parsley/some celery’) to the downright contentious (‘But I was here before this lady was!’). Trying to be assertive but polite in your second language can be quite a struggle at times. So, to avoid arguments and appearing disrespectful to the elderly, I generally buy from the vendors with ticketing systems. Plus, Marzia really does have the best locally-grown apples right now. I park TT’s stroller.

‘Scusi ma devo prendere il numero,’ I say to the crowd of people surrounding Marzia’s stall. I nudge my way through and grab my number from the ticket dispenser. 85, it says. I then hear Marzia announce: ‘Sessanta-nove! A chi tocca? (Sixty-nine! Whose turn is it?)’

There are 16 people in front of me. Not in the literal sense though. Physically lining up one by one is just not the done thing here.  Armed with shopping trolleys, the nonni are all standing as close to Marzia’s counter as they can, ready to pounce with a triumphant ‘Tocca a me (It’s my turn)’ once their numbers are called.

Wanting to get a clearer look at the cratefuls of produce on sale, I strategically start inching TT’s stroller closer to Marcia’s counter.  I manage to get through and push on the brake of TT’s stroller. TT starts skirming. She often does when her stroller comes to a halt. A tiny, smartly-dressed nonna, starts talking to TT and elicits a smile.

‘Che bei denti che hai! (What beautiful teeth you have!)’ the nonna exclaims to TT. Italians, particularly the elderly, love bambini and have no reservations whatsoever about engaging with the babies and toddlers of complete strangers.

She then asks me: ‘Quanto ha? (How old is she?)’. The nonne have no qualms about asking mothers vital stats about their pregnancies and their babies either. Since being visibly pregnant with TT, I’ve nearly always found myself drawn into having pregnancy and/or baby-related discussions at the markets with my fellow market shoppers.  Belly shapes, due dates, breastfeeding, teething, solids and baby carriers are just a few  of the subjects the ubiquitous nonne have readily dispensed their advice/observations/recollections about to me in the past 18+ months.

‘Eighteen months’, I tell her.

‘And she already has that many teeth?’ the nonna comments incredulously.

Marzia then notices TT and I. I’ve been buying fruit and veggies from her since I was pregnant and she has become very fond of TT.  She immediately wishes me buongiorno and starts making sweet faces at TT.

‘Ciao bellissima’, she says to TT.

TT is skirming again. Marzia and her assistants are now serving customers 71, 72 and 73. I take TT out of her stroller and hold her so she can have a closer look at the crates.  She is rather taken by the royal gala apples. These days, all red-coloured foods –apples, capsicums and tomatoes – meet with her approval. She puts per index finger to her cheek to indicate that she thinks the royal galas are yummy. A toddler of few words, gestures like this typically Italian one, are her way of communicating.

All of a sudden, TT decides she doesn’t want to stay in my arms anymore. There are still more customers to be served before me. I put her on the ground to walk. She immediately starts walking away from Marzia’s stall and makes her way to the homewares stall opposite. Fearing irreparable damage to (and with!) the assortment of kitchen utensils on sale there, I pick her up. She begins to wail. I then try to put her back in her stroller to no avail. She wants to walk and she wants to walk NOW!

Marcia then notices I’m struggling to contain TT.

“Il povero tesoro non ce la fa più!’ she exclaims. She offers to serve us immediately. I thank her profusely. I neglected to mention the other advantage to shopping at Marzia’s stall;  her sensitivity to the elderly, pregnant women and parents with crying babies and/or bored young children.  She insists on serving them first.

Somehow, I manage to contain TT, keep her in my arms and order everything I want – apples, potatoes and a particularly handsome pumpkin  – in quick succession. The nonna who was impressed by TT’s dental development helps me put my booty in the basket under TT’s stroller. I suddenly remember that TT didn’t eat much breakfast before going to the market and remove an apple from one of the paper bags. I bite into it and place it in TT’s hands.  She begins gnawing at it with her bei denti and luckily, doesn’t seem to notice that I have slipped her back into her stroller again. Phew! I then offer my number 85 ticket to a customer who arrived after me. Marzia, her assistants and the nonni hanging out to be served all bid us buona giornata, buona domenica and buon appetito!

The post A Morning at the Markets was inspired by this month’s #BlogPiemonte topic of  A Day In The Life.  

If you wish to pay a visit to Marzia and other contadini selling their produce, you can find them at my local market in Corso Filippo Brunelleschi, in the Pozzo Strada area of Turin, from Monday to Friday from 8:00am  to 2:00pm and on Saturday all day.

I’ll be posting about risotto alla milanese in the next couple of weeks. Pellegrino Artusi, to my great delight, was no purist and actually included three different recipes (two of them without bone marrow if you’re not keen on offal!) for this wonderful dish. I’m currently in the middle of trying them all out.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out what my fellow bloggers had to say about this month’s topic:

Use the hashtag #BlogPiemonte and follow the conversation on Twitter and other social media!

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    It really is a juggling act isn’t it? I hope I’ve conveyed though that although sometimes locals can be a bit ‘furbi’ (roughly translates to sly) about stuff like queueing when it comes to kids they can be helpful too.

    I liked reading about the kindness you can find in the markets too. It’s not all playing bumper cars with the deceptively sweet-looking nonne….they really can be sweet in the end 🙂

    You’ve gotten me planning for the Wednesday market. I’ll definitely be loading up on persimmons.

    Yep, I’m looking forward to getting some more persimmons next time I go to the markets (probably Friday morning) too. TT loves them!

    Queueing (or lack thereof) definitely did my head in here when I first came but I found that once I learnt how things work here (it’s unwritten rules and customs here that count!) things definitely got easier. You meet some very kind people (other shoppers and vendors like Marzia) at the markets too. For me, the market is a microcosm of Italian culture… 🙂

    I love “the apple lady”! (that’s what i call her) She’s so sweet and most definitely has the best apples. If there are less than 5 people then I stop because I just can’t be 20 people deep for apples!!

    Reading your post brought back some memories (and anxiety) of having to queue up with a wriggling little one!

    Thanks Sonia. I had a feeling you’d relate to this post! I hope shopping is getting easier now for you with the girls getting bigger. 😉

    Yes, I asked Marzia for her name recently as I had a feeling that I’d end up writing something about her and the market shopping experience here in Turin. There are other people in our neighbourhood I’d like to write about too!

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