Opinion – Cuisine Bruta: The private death of public markets


Tourists are passionate about Mercado da Ribeira, in Lisbon. I was there before and after the concession to the Time Out brand –an urban guide brand that started with a magazine in London– and the conversion of Ribeira into a food court.

In its original configuration, Ribeira was a decadent and absolutely classic market. Fishmongers emanating smells and pouring seafood water on the cement floor, fruit waiting for buyers, a number of stores closed (you never know if they are empty or open at another time), many others offering items of no interest to the passer-by casual.

The new Ribeira –sorry, Time Out Market Lisboa– has restaurants distributed around an area with tables for common occupancy, exactly like a food court in a shopping center. Spaces and visual language are standardized.

The difference is that the food is sold as very special. Croquette shop, snack shop, butter shop, menus signed by celebrity chefs, branches of traditional Lisbon houses, wine bar, beer experience, hamburger, pizza, sushi. The place is bomb from the time it opens to the time it closes.

But it is only market in name.

I was reminded of Ribeira when reading, here at Sheet, on the reformulation of the Santo Amaro market, which was also handed over to the private sector. Sorry again: now the space is called Santo Mercado.

I didn’t visit the Santo Mercado, but the title of the report (“…reborn with the look of a mall…”) and the accompanying photos leave no doubt: it’s also a market in name only. Whether he will be successful in this new guise is another five hundred.

It seems inevitable that public markets, as they functioned in the 20th century, are doomed to extinction. The model does not serve well either as a shopping center or as a center for coexistence and visitation.

When it comes to shopping, supermarkets offer similar variety with self-service and unified checkout. For special items – such as fish, cheese, charcuterie and exotic products – the internet offers a myriad of home delivery options.

Face-to-face negotiation is lost, the physical evaluation of the item to be taken is lost, traditions are lost. Losses that are of little interest to the contemporary consumer.

Modernity has also overtaken markets as a tourist attraction. Before they represented the spirit of the city, they offered things from the land and only from that land. No more. Belo Horizonte’s Mercado Central sells cheese made in Pomerode (SC). At the Mercado do Rio Vermelho (in Salvador), you can buy Duroc pork sausage made in the interior of São Paulo.

It has become very easy to trade things from any origin anywhere. The parish accepts no less and is absolutely right. As a sample of regional culture, however, almost everything goes down the drain. The markets that persist in the old formula –besides the two already mentioned, I am thinking of Mercado da Lapa, in São Paulo–, tend to stay the same and equally boring.

In addition to the very similar offer, there is the anachronism of traditional stores that do not say anything to regulars used to the beating of marketing stimuli these days. No one cares about pressure cooker rubber, wicker baskets, rope tobacco, turkey necks, piassava brooms, tripe to make sausages.

The concession to the private sector turns public markets into food courts with one or two luxury goods stores. It’s wrong? Not at all, it’s an attempt to keep the market space alive. The market itself, hardly to say it, has already gone to hell.

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