One of the things Kay really likes to do here in Italy is go around all the local markets. Throughout this area of South Lazio in the various towns of the area, a lively open air market can be found each and every day of the week.
Friday is Itri’s special day, and it is transformed into a vibrant, bustling market place. Each stall holder has his regular pitch. One section is dedicated to food and eager housewives set out early to shop for the best, freshest of ingredients for a hearty family menu. Well stocked Salumeria vans offer tempting selections of: plump juicy olives, some stuffed or marinated, capers, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes and grilled vegetables preserved in oil or in vinegar, salted anchovies, “Bacala” or dried salted cod, and an array of olive oils and vinegars. Then there are the numerous types of salami and also cooked and cured meats such as: Bresaola; Mortadella, Carpaccio, Speck Pancetta, Prosciutto Crudo, Prosciutto Cotto, Guanciale etc some of which are made from cuts of meat, and animal parts, that have long ago fallen from favour in the UK.
Then there is the bank of diverse cheeses made from the milk of cows, goats, sheep and buffalos, some dolce “sweet” and some piccante “matured and strongly flavoured, some with hard rinds, some with soft, and some “sotto olio”. Crumbly Parmesan and Pecorino, smooth Asiago, Provolone, smoked knobbly Scamorza and Caciocavallo, sweet creamy ricotta, luscious balls of milky mozzarella, to name but a few.
The next “bancarella” has a fine show of silvery, glinting fish and seafood chilling on shavings of ice.
Then there’s the first of the fruit and vegetable stands, which are full to overflowing with freshly picked, irregularly shaped, local produce, artistically arranged in colourful displays. The wide choice of goods, never quite the same each week, reflects the ever changing seasons. Posies of parsley and basil, celery, carrots, beets, funghi, cabbages, cauliflowers, lush spring greens, spinach, escarole, sprouting brocoletti, asparagus spears, broad beans, garden peas, artichoke heads, chicory, radicchio, salad leaves and rocket, fennel bulbs, radishes, onions, shallots, spring onions, French beans, green runner beans, fresh Borlotti beans, aubergines, zucchini, zucchini flowers, peculiarly shaped squashes, corn-on-the-cob, peppers, and countless varieties of sun-ripened tomatoes on the vine.
Then the fruits … oranges, mandarins, clementines, lemons, wooden trays of sweet scented strawberries, nespole, soft furry apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, luscious plums, apples, melecotone, pears, kiwi, persimmon, succulent figs, juicy grapes, golden melons and giant thirst-quenching water melons. Often, as the market begins to pack up at the end of a session, especially if there is a seasonal glut, crates of perishable items can be snapped up for a song.
The next stall has jars of local honey, bunches of dried fragrant herbs, tresses of onions, plaits of garlic, threaded garlands of fiery pepperoncini, an assortment of sacks containing dried beans, peas and various pulses. Then there are peanuts kernels, chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and dried fruits.
A further stall sells trays of vigorous vegetable seedlings for planting in one’s own orto, as well as potted plants, shrubs and fresh cut flowers. Another familiar face is an Indian pedlar who on fine days walks around selling strings of garlic, whereas on inclement days he tends to switch to umbrellas.
A wizened old lady, wearing a head-scarf and pinny, sells fresh snails from her bucket, which she weighs on an ancient hand-held balance scale. In between sales she shares her time between chatting to the local market goers and attempting to keep all her snails under control and from escaping out of their temporary home.
The other section of market is ablaze with colour and has a fascinating array of wares on sale, rolls of fabrics, flowing organza curtains,, bed linen and household textiles and furnishings, haberdashery, silk flowers, cosmetics, jewellery, accessories, toys, hardware and kitchen miscellanea, and garments of all shapes, sizes and descriptions, ranging from teeny petite to “big fat spaghetti eating Mamma dimensions”.
There is also a wonderful range of leather goods and fashionable footwear so if you happen to have a passion for shoes this is the place for you. In China I learned the skill of bartering, the long ritual of negotiating the price, but my ability does not match that of our dear English friend who is renowned for being a “Hand-bag-aholic”, a habit which is easily fed during her visits to us during which she has spent many a happy hour browsing the local market stalls for unusual handbags and bargains.
Most of the traders are Italians however, there are a few stalls that are run by Chinese, Phillippinos, Indians and North Africans. We have befriended a young trader, from Senegal on the Ivory Coast of Africa, who specializes in selling handbags, belts and sunglasses and always offers us a good “sconto” or discount. He positively stands out in a crowd as he is remarkably tall and stately, at a height that must be approaching seven feet. Dressed in his flowing caftan, he enthusiastically rushes forward to greet us with a beaming toothy smile, a hearty handshake and a few words of English.
By mid morning the market is buzzing as shoppers jostle between the “bancarelle”. However, this is not just a place to shop but provides an ideal opportunity for the locals to mingle, catch up with each other over a caffe or a cappuccino. A gnarled mustachioed Neapolitan accordion player routinely does the rounds of all the local bars.
As lunchtime approaches the hard working stall holders exchange lively banter as they set about packing up their wares and heading off back home for a tasty filling plate of delicious pasta.
On Sundays there is a huge market in nearby Fondi as well as one in Gaeta on Wednesday Mornings and Formia on Thursdays. Here you can buy a kaleidoscope of merchandise. Kay especially loves the rummage stalls, where sometimes you can snap up a bargain.
In fact Kay now has a whole wardrobe of clothes that she leaves here when she goes back home !!!
But she can never turn down a bargain !!!
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott