Like most European countries, Italian towns host a weekly, open-air market (come rain or shine) where locals and visitors alike may purchase the freshest of local produce and goods. Depending on the size of the market, you could buy just about everything you’d ever want from a hastily set-up table from the back of a van that only pulls up once a week. Part of the fun is identifying unfamiliar fruits and veggies as well as the seafood or meats. Most open early in the morning and usually finish before 1:00 PM. Montepulciano’s is Thursdays. It is held in the bus station parking lot to take advantage of the size of the area. It is not only a shopping time, but also a time to meet up with friends and share some stories, have a few bites of a variety of foods and simply enjoy the day as only the Italians can do.
There are certain rules that you must follow while shopping at the market. The first rule is:
Don’t touch the merchandise! You don’t get to touch what you’re buying until you’ve paid for it. This may seem counterintuitive, because, you’re thinking, “How can I tell if that fruit is good if I don’t pick it up?” But in Italian markets, unless you’ve been given permission to serve yourself by the vendor, you tell them what you want and how much of it you want and they’ll get it for you. The assumptions are that everything they have is good, they know their inventory better than you do, and they don’t know where your hands have been. So this practice is partly bowing to their superior knowledge and partly about hygiene. Just point to what you want if you don’t know the word, tell the vendor how much you want. They’ll usually choose and bag it for you, or hand you a bag and gesture that you can do it yourself (if you’re allowed to do it yourself, be careful not to rifle through everything – this is where the hygiene thing comes in). This rule applies to all foodstuffs; if you’re buying CDs or other items, you can pick those up and look at them before you’ve paid for them!
The second rule is:
Bring your own bag -- The Italians shop with their own bags, whether they’re plastic bags they’ve gotten at the store in the past or cloth bags specifically meant for market days. In Italian supermarkets, you’ll most likely pay a few cents for a plastic bag if you don’t already have one, so the locals have gotten used to bringing their own bags. You probably aren’t shopping with your own grocery bags, but a daypack/backpack will probably do just fine. The individual plastic or paper bags the vendor puts your fruits, veggies, or cheeses in doesn’t cost you extra.
The third rule is:
Don’t try to barter -- Haggling may be considered a sport by some people, but unless you know the vendor you’re not likely to get a discount on your purchases and most likely you’re insulting them by offering less than the posted price. You can try to barter with the folks selling clothing if you’d like, but when it comes to the food vendors you’ll be paying the price that’s listed.
Look for the lines. It’s true the world over – if there are five vendors selling the same thing and only one of them has a long line, it’s because that’s where the best stuff is. If you’ve got the patience and want the best the market has to offer, hop in that line and just buy what everyone else is buying.
There are also a variety of other outdoor markets such as antique and Artisan Fairs. Montepulciano’s is the second weekend of every month in the Piazza Grande. You can find others in the surrounds towns as well.