The Abruzzo town of Sulmona holds a farmer’s market in Piazza Garibaldi every Wednesday and Saturday. So, what’s it like? On this glorious spring day, it seems that many people want to find out. In contrast to our previous visit on a cool, showery Wednesday, today the locals are out in force. Along with a healthy dose of tourists of course. However, the tourists mostly congregate in the narrow streets leading to Piazza Garibaldi, near the fountain at the end of the aqueduct and at the many coffee shops. Not too many tourists buy bags full of fresh produce as we did. And, as you should too.
First stop hot chicken
Having tasted the goods from the hot chicken van previously, we returned for more. Providing cooked chickens, spicy chicken pieces (my choice), chicken rolls, roast potatoes and porchetta, the van is popular with a sizeable queue forming. Today we need to get a ticket, unlike previously when we were the only customers.
The five or six workers quickly fill orders, and no one waits too long. It comes to our turn and although we try in our halting Italian to ask for our order, the lady serving quickly anticipates our requests and then answers us in English!
Next stop juicy fat olives
Revisiting another stand to replenish the fat, juicy green olives we already consumed after our previous visit, I buy a slightly larger quantity this time. The woman serving nods knowingly at me. She well knows how good they are. We grab a few prunes for good measure, choosing between two grades. The red-cheeked woman moves on to the next customer with her no-nonsense approach and business-like attitude.
Salad greens galore
Unlike the offerings in the few supermarkets we visited till now, the market provides a lot of choice in salad greens. Today, I can choose between iceberg or cos lettuces, and even delicate mignonettes. There are bundles of indeterminate leafy greens in the salad box, so I bravely choose one to add to my purchases. Then I select a rough-skinned cucumber and three gorgeous oranges to complete my purchases.
Truffle cheese and prosciutto
Several cheese vans vie for my attention. I choose the one with the longest queue as I think this indicates the locals’ preference for quality produce. We wait in line for several minutes, long enough to start to bake in the hot spring sunshine. I gesture to a woman in a wheelchair, also waiting to be served, that I’m hot. She indicates that I should step forward close to her in the shade. But people, probably since the pandemic, are conscious of personal space and I soon edge back into the sun.
A young man beside us is busy on his phone. Finally, it comes to the next person to be served and I indicate to the cheesemonger that the young man is next. He nods gratefully to me. Smartly dressed in a Calvin Klein white t-shirt with smart glasses he asks for his prosciutto. We watch carefully as it is sliced and weighed. We nod at the price and ask him is that the best prosciutto? He answers in English and so is soon called in to assist us. Can you ask the man for the same amount for us we ask him. Si, si, he agrees to help. The message is relayed, and our order quickly arrives.
You are Australian, may I assist you?
But wait, while killing time, I’ve spied some cheese that I’d like to try. There are probably 30 or more varieties in the display cabinet and hanging on display around the van. I say in my best Italian, some Pecorino al tartufo per favore? Another woman waiting nearby steps forward and offers to assist. No, no I motion, I think I’m ok. I sign to the cheesemonger that I want a smaller piece taken off the block. This universal gesturing works well in most situations.
The lady, somewhat disappointed at not being called into service like the young man, asks where we are from. Australia, we say, and she nods knowingly. I never know whether Europeans understand we are from Australia or think we are saying Austria. It’s certainly a problem in France, but well worth persisting as most French people think highly of Australians due to our service in WWI and our rugby union team. Just don’t mention submarines.
Farm fresh eggs albeit in plastic packaging
Next we move on to the huge mound of eggs on display across the lane separating the market stalls. They come in plastic egg boxes, which, while not great for the environment, are great for transporting the eggs safely. I point to a half dozen, perfect brown eggs. The beret wearing farmer quickly grabs them and puts them in a plastic carry bag. When it comes to telling us the price though, he calls on his friend standing beside him who speaks a bit of English.
The friend explains that the eggs we chose are fresh that day and cost E2.50. Meanwhile the other eggs just beside, and looking exactly the same, are two days old and cost E1.50. I say that we will take the older eggs as they seem perfectly good to me. The farmer sighs quietly and replaces the eggs. “You’re in trouble now,” I say to our interpreter acknowledging that he did the farmer out of an extra euro. “Oh well,” he replied, “my English is not so good. I’ve forgotten a lot.”
Again, we are asked our origins and on replying Australia, our interpreter friend gesticulates excitedly. Perhaps he has friends or relatives who migrated to Australia as many from this region of Italy did. I’m not sure what it was but he packed two pristine white eggs into another plastic egg box and with a flourish, presented them to us. “This is because I speak English with you,” he said with a shy smile.
Our final purchases were fruit; large juicy, red strawberries, small oval tomatoes clinging to their stem and a few bananas. Several women stood patiently waiting to be served. After placing their order, the farmer serving them seemed to pick out the best pieces of fruit or vegetables for each customer. In many French markets, the customer is not permitted to select the produce. But here, it seemed acceptable to choose the punnet of strawberries that appealed the most. We placed more tomatoes that we really needed into a bag. How could you pull some off the vine they grew on, separating them from their mates? Their perfume wafted towards my nose. We’ll just take them all I said, they are so fresh.
That’s E5.30 said the farmer’s wife and I reached into my coin purse for the 30c. No, no she motioned and gave us a 30c discount along with a big smile. Everyone is so polite and very friendly.
Have a great day
At the bakery on the way home, we buy a piece of bread that is costed by weight. A few delicacies sneak into our bag and payment is made. Buona giornata (have a great day) I casually toss over my shoulder as we exit the store. The woman serving behind the counter gives me a huge smile and replies with the same phrase.
Most people love it when you try to use their language. English is however widely spoken, especially by younger people. At the restaurant last night, our waitress spoke very good English. Paying the bill, I complimented her on her proficiency. She told me, with a shy smile, that she taught herself. Hailing from Argentina, her native language was Spanish. But she taught herself both Italian and English. Somewhat smugly she confided that she learned English from watching the sitcom, Friends! I guess those old reruns have value after all.
Take the opportunity to shop at a farmer’s market if possible. Even if you only want some cheese to nibble with your wine, it is a great experience. You will see how the locals live and the outstanding quality of the produce. It’s also a great way to spread some of your tourist money around the community. At the very least, you’ll come away with a smile on your face.