April 23, 2024 - Written by: Nancy Pollard
Read Time: 5 Minutes Subscribe & Share

San Giovani's pic of Old Town Alex standI am a sucker for farmers markets.  When we were first married and rented part of a former stable on Queen Street in Alexandria, I of course went to the Old Town Farmers Market where, believe it or not, I could get fresh cream and butter, fresh, not frozen, pork and chicken along with eggs and some fruits and vegetables and flowers. There may have been baked goods as well. Later these producers were forced to close down, except for the flower lady, whose son is still selling flowers at the same spot as his mother did.  New rules were set up about certification and hygiene, and for a long time Alexandria’s oldest “Farmers Market” really was a craft fair. The sort of place that sells crocheted toilet paper covers, as our sharp-penciled editor describes it. In the last decade or so, a refreshing approach and new producers appeared, and it was truly more of a farmers market.  In the meantime, we had discovered the Farmers Market on Dupont Circle and loved going there — until parking became impossible and the crowds overwhelming. For the last few years, we had gone to a small Farmers Market on Sherwood Hall Lane, which I deeply miss. All the producers there were independent farmers, bakers, or flower and herb growers. It boasted a voter registration  information kiosk and a group that would take your organic or compostable waste.  There weren’t numerous stands, but one served coffee to go with a cookie or pastry. 

Far From The Madding Crowds

I’ve thought about this several times when I have gone through the famous stalls in what they callQuadrilatero mercati bologna here – the Quadrilatero. These historic narrow streets in the Bolognese Centro Storico are teeming with stalls, food shops, snack bars, fish mongers, household goods emporiums, flower and plant shops, butchers, and cheese specialists. It’s also teeming with tourists and Bolognesi alike. It’s fascinating,  seductive, Instagrammable,  and a bit overwhelming.

While I am still wrapping my head and grocery list around the highly publicized delights of Via Pescherie Vecchie and its environs, might I suggest another one if you are in Bologna for a short stay? Especially if you have some sort of kitchen and don’t want to eat out all the time. I think you’ll find Il Mercato Ritrovato a bit more relaxing and intimate, easier to get a coffee, snatch a pastry along with some bread or focaccia or even a glass of wine and a sandwich – which is panino and not panini. The number of producers is small, and it boasts a nice terrace area – with a large bar and very accommodating staff  – for sitting down to rest and eat if you wish. It does get more crowded later than earlier, but you won’t miss the jostling and elbowing of the Quadrilatero.  

Born From Slow Food

The idea for this particular market certainly emanated from the abstract intentions of the Slow Food movement, which originated in Italy. It was first administered by the Slow Food organization but is currently run by the association of its 45 participating producers. Its spaces are hosted by the Cineteca. a dynamic film organization that archives and restores films and holds related workshops and exhibitions. There are two little piazzettas named after Anna Magnani and Pier Paolo Pasolini, two very magnetic figures in Italian film. The building surrounding the setting was Bologna’s  slaughterhouse, which now houses the Cineteca’s public movie theater, library and archives. The Cineteca holds an annual summerMercato Ritrovato Cafe wisteria trellis film festival, which features classic films and some that have been restored through the organization. 

N.B. The Cineteca’s annual selections are offered in film festivals around the world, including one in Washington, D.C. 

This neighborhood was bombed during World War II, and the city invested in an urban renewal program for the area around the slaughterhouse, so you will see some very interesting modern Italian residential  and commercial architecture – all buildings whose profiles are low enough not to dwarf this appealing and open cobblestoned  quarter. The association allows other nonprofit organizations to sell their wares in the two piazetta entrances. One year, I bought a cloth grocery bag sewn by women serving time in a local prison. This group funded education programs for imprisoned women.  There are occasional musicians, and even impromptu dancing occurs in this charming space. 

mercato ritrovato rooster guardAt one entrance, a rooster stands guard in his post, not unlike the ceremonial guard at Buckingham palace. From there you can wander easily and check out producers or get in line if you want to purchase. The association also has classes (but only in Italian) and this last time, there was a fully enrolled class on making pasta by hand. Children will have a great time here, as there is a tented space with plenty of activities. Also available is a large bar set up for coffee, pastries, or cocktails and snacks and amercato ritrovato pasta class nice patio area for just relaxing, even a beautiful wisteria-covered trellis to sit under. If you want more shade, right before you enter the market area, there is a patio and bar open to the public on the grounds of a retired persons’ social club – either choice is a winner. 

The focus of this market is of course to support independent and small agricultural enterprises. You’ll be surprised at what you can buy – milk and cheese, eggs and poultry, seafood, fruits and vegetables, beer and wine, pastries and breads and even pecialties from butchers and purveyors of smoked meats and even hand-printed tablecloths and runners.  The market, like others in many communities, brings other benefits for consumers. Yes, prices may be higher than at corporate grocery chains. But the producer is in front of you, the food is fresher, and in most cases more delicious than what is available even in a pricier grocery store.   I bought some butter there that was heavenly at any price. 

 In the open air, the scene is more engaging – you can enjoy it in silence (which is usually my MO) or you can exchange casual conversation as there are tourists just like you as well as Bolognesi. Sustainability and organically produced foods are promoted, so check out their online calendar and use Google Translate to read their producer stories Our current digital technology is helpful to reintroduce both children and adults, local citizens and tourists alike to the joys of a weekly local market. 

Hungry for More?
Subscribe to Kitchen Detail and get the newest post in your inbox, plus exclusive KD Reader discounts on must have products and services.

Share Us on Social Media:
5 3 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments