07 April 2011

Sammarinese Mercatale

Borgo Maggiore is one of the nine castelli in San Marino and also happens to be the name of that castello's largest town. Early in its history, around the late 1200s, it was called "Mercatale" (marketplace). The most important market in the country still takes place here every Thursday. Parking was tight and people trudged up and down the hills with their plastic bags filled with rainbow polyester. Instead of in a market square, the vendors spilled through all the narrow streets of the pretty town.
We went with a shopping bag and a hope to find dinner. Passing by the few fruit and vegetable stands we saw at the very beginning of the sprawl, we hoped to find a larger collection of food sellers. Instead, we found the Borgo Maggiore market to be exactly like most European markets we've visited: filled with more fabric than food. Curtains, blankets, blouses, silk flowers that the mosquitos still swarmed around and poked at. I understood their disappointment.
We found cacti and t-shirts with Christina Aguilera's face on it, but no cheese or wine or meat or fish... Then, we spotted a little boy digging down into a greasy paper cone and walked in the direction from which he'd come. We smelled fry wafting in the air and finally stumbled upon a stand which churned out helping after helping of freshly fried seafood to very eager customers. Just a few feet away stood two identical porchetta stands, with competing pork and tins of crackling. While both things were enticing, we were after something a little more - raw.
The goods seem so random and mass produced, yet these markets are always bustling. I honestly wonder how many of the customers are resellers. In San Marino, it seemed like a lot of people just stopped by to chat with their friends. You definitely overheard more gossiping than haggling. It also seemed to give people an excuse to have a pre-10am glass of wine - sort of like brunch or Wimbledon.
I may or may not have purchased my very first cheap, European market undergarment- but that's neither here nor there. We struck out on dinner ingredients, but managed to procure a little food for the walk back down.
This table appeared to be run by the food collective of San Marino and the youngish unsmiling man was very keen on explaining which grains were used to make the small variety of bread he had for sale. There were pale, round loaves that looked exactly like enormous sugar cookies (complete with liberal sugar dusting). We opted, instead for this sheet-bread thing. It was very oily and sort of bland but pleasantly dry somehow. We think he said it hadn't been baked at all. The huge crystals of salt on top really helped it make the jump from 'interesting' to enjoyable.
The most impressive part of this generally unimpressive market was the fact that under the eaves, in the narrow passageway which wound around a strip of stores, they had actually found some level ground. As we pulled a little basket on wheels around the produce section of a supermarket later that day, I felt awful that I hadn't purchased more from the market. Merlin made me feel better immediately, though. "All the market stuff was imported from Italy, too." Sammarinese produce basically consists of olive oil, wine and cheese. We, dutifully, had a large helping of all three with our dinner.

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