Exploring Genoa’s Oldest Covered Market
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.
(Ed. Note: And in 2016 the story changes. The market becomes MOG (Mercato Orientale Genova srl), and it follows Boqueria in Barcelona, the Borough Market in London, the Mercado di San Miguel in Madrid and the Central Market in Florence to become more of a regional food court “through the creation of a food hall with kitchens, open to tastings, show cooking, and practical lessons.”)
The idea of relaunching the Mercato Orientale stems from the passion and friendship of a group of Genoeses in love with their city who today have the aim of bringing MOG among the ten most important city markets in Europe. They are trying to recover and bring back to life a forgotten space of great historical and architectural value. Many names have cropped up, but what is the best model to get inspiration from? All and no-one, because MOG wants to be unique and different, with a strong link to the territory but at the same time open to the world just like Genova. One the strengths of MOG is the green and eco-friendly look of the compostable materials used inside the market, as well as the quality of the products used by the skilled hands of the chefs, all strictly Genoese.
The quote above is taken from the wonderfully informative MOG website.
We now return you to Mr. Downie’s article.
History of the Mercato Orientale Prior to 2016
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
Take a private custom tour with us in Genoa, on the Riviera, in Rome, Paris or Burgundy
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I have never really heard about this amazing market. Why has it been kept such a secret? Or is that what keeps it so “amazing?” Why is it difficult to find? This is very intriguing to me and of course, now I am dying to get there to see it.
— Erica Heller · Oct 30, 07:45 AM · #
Genoa’s market isn’t the best-kept secret in Italy, it’s so secret no one knows it’s secret… The truth is, millions of tourists visit Florence, Venice and Rome, and of course Tuscany, but the few intrepid travelers who get to Genoa usually don’t stray far from the port and cathedral. The market is in the less intriguing part of town built primarily in the 1800s… and the entrances are so poorly sign-posted that you can walk right by without seeing them. But everyone in the region knows where it is. People trek there from far and wide to buy the basil especially, but many other food items too. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story!
— David Downie · Oct 30, 08:54 AM · #
So long since I was there. Like Erica, I missed this when I was. You and your new blog are magnetizing me back, David. Big Tx for determining, and filling, this gorgeous niche.
— Elatia Harris · Oct 30, 09:14 AM · #