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Rachel and I walked behind Giacomo, Mary, and Hannah as we snaked our way through the Sant’Ambrogio market in Florence.
Giacomo, our cooking teacher and chef, was leading us to a vegetable stall to buy ingredients for the meal we were going to make that afternoon.
Deep, red radishes and green lettuce covered with droplets of water stood on display with signs displaying il prezzo, l’origine, la varietà, and la categoria.
I watched him pick up cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, placing each in their own brown bag before handing them to the fruttivendolo.
If you’re in Italy, I’m 110% sure that you’re going to run into some kind of open market, whether that’s inside or outside.
And when you do (hopefully when you’re on our Not Your Typical Tourist Language Immersion Retreat), what are you supposed to say and do so you get what you want and avoid making una brutta figura?
Here’s a quick guide on vocabulary, phrases to know and the etiquette to follow.
Basic Market Vocabulary
First, there are a handful of different types of markets.
— Mercato ambulante – Farmers market (in the sense that it sells goods as well as food)
— Mercato dell’artigianato OR Mercato artigiano – Artisan market
— Mercato dell’antiquariato – Antique market
— Mercato del pesce – Fish market
These markets are only open on certain days of the week or the month, so make sure to check the city’s schedule in advance.
CPF: San Lorenzo Market is one of Carlotta’s favorite places to visit in Florence. Read more about it here.
19 Phrases for Shopping at a Market
— (if you don’t know the word) Prendo (due), per favore. – I’ll take (two), please.
— Mi dà un chilo di (ricotta)? – Can you give me a kilo of (ricotta)?
— Prendo due etti di olive, per favore. – I’ll take a ½ lb of olives, please.
— Vorrei due etti e mezzo di (castagne). – I’d like two hundred and fifty grams of chestnuts.
— Oggi faccio la panzanella, avete la cipolla rossa? – I’m making panzanella today, do you have red onion?
— Quanto costano (le patate)? – How much are (the potatoes)?
— Quanto viene (il basilico)? – How much is the basil?
— Basta. – That’s enough.
— Nient’altro, grazie. – That’s enough, thank you.
— Un pò di più. – More.
— Qualcosa (di) meno. – Less.
— Poi? – Anything else?
— Altro? – Anything else?
— Vuole una busta? / sacchetto? – A bag?
— Posso chiederle un sacchetto di carta? – Can I ask for a paper bag?
— Sono tre etti e venti grammi, che faccio lascio? – It’s three hundred and twenty grams, (usually more than the quantity you asked for) do you take it?
If it isn’t busy and you’d like some advice on how to prepare whatever you’re purchasing, you can ask the vendor…
— Come si fa questi ravioli? – How does one make these ravioli?
— Come potrei usare questo ortaggio? Non l’ho mai assaggiato. – How could I use this vegetable? I’ve never tasted it.
— Secondo lei queste pesche sono abbastanza dolci? – What do you think about these peaches? Are they sweet enough?
If you’re not sure how to handle money in Italian, read this article next.
3 Must-Know Rules to Make a Bella Figura
1) Bring cash. – You can usually assume that all markets will be cash only, so make sure you have plenty on you when you go.
2) Don’t touch the produce with your hands. – While I have seen Italians use their hands to pick through produce, it’s usually only when the vendor knows the customer well. Otherwise, it’s a hygiene issue. Just tell the vendor what you’d like or what you’re making and they’ll help you pick produce out.
3) Bring your own bag, or pay for one. – If you don’t bring your own bag, expect to pay a little extra in change to purchase one.
Want to learn how to order meat at the macelleria? Read this article.
Have any other questions about how to shop at a market in Italy? Leave a comment below!
Special thanks to The Creative Impostor Studios for producing this show, to Patreon supporters for helping fund the show, and to the lovely Timarie Harrison for putting all of the pieces together. It takes a village.
DID YOU KNOW…?
We have a program called the Pronouns Challenge that helps you get better at using… you guessed it… pronouns in Italian. And beato/a te, you get 20% off just by being a listener of the podcast. To claim that discount, enter the code ‘LISTENER’ at checkout.
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