Exploring Genoa’s Celebrated Covered Market: Mercato Orientale
Few cities anywhere have a marketplace as lively and historical and full of great food as Genoa does. The Mercato Orientale has been around for over a century. Its origins lie in the boom the city experienced after Italian Unification 150 years ago.
Genoa lived its modern heyday in the second half of the 1800s. That’s when it was part of Italy’s so-called industrial triangle: Milan, Turin and Genoa. The wide, straight streets of the city date to this period. Genoa’s main street—its back bone—is Via XX Settembre (the double x, pronounced venti, stands for twenty, as in September 20th, 1870, the date Rome was recaptured from the papal authorities, and unification was completed).
Many of the city’s office buildings, department stores, supermarkets and designer boutiques are on or near Via XX Settembre. But the most important institution on this street is the city’s celebrated covered municipal market, il mercato orientale. The name derives from the location on the eastern side of central Genoa, not because of “oriental” exoticism, as many first-time visitors to Genoa believe.
The market isn’t easy to find, with few signs and no grand entrance. Follow the crowds from Via XX Settembre near the church of La Consolazione, step through a passageway and you’ll be among the flower and fruit stalls. Other entrances are in alleyways leading off Via Galata, between Via XX Settembre and the compact Piazza Colombo, dedicated to Christopher Columbus.
Il Mercato Oriental stays open longer than many municipal markets in Italy: from 7:30 am to 1 pm and 3:30 pm to 7:30 pm. There are two levels, though most visitors miss the upper one. True, most of the most colorful and best food stands are on the ground floor. This is a seasonal market and much of the produce is local.
On a typical day at the Mercato Orientale you’ll find a startling array of fruit and vegetables, including a dozen or more varieties of tomato, plus local chard, artichokes from Albenga or Sardinia, Genoese basil from the suburb of Prà, fresh fish from the Gulf of Genoa or the coasts of France and Spain, and, in fall, chestnuts and mushrooms from the mountains that rise on both sides of the city. Year round you’ll see displays of dry goods, herbs, spices, pine nuts, olive and other oils, jams, conserves, meat, poultry, hams, cheeses and other specialty food delicacies.
Once you’ve explored the market and done your shopping, wander down nearby Via San Vincenzo and pick up a slice of focaccia or farinata, or have lunch at one of our favorite trattoria-style restaurants.
For more on Genoa, its history, culture, food, wine, hiking trails, treks, guided tours, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia and more, keep reading WanderingLiguria and pick up our books, “Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa” and “Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera”