The Mercato Orientale, Genoa’s most celebrated food market is gaining a reputation as a laboratory of tourism innovation thanks to a flagship pilot initiative focused on “pesto tourism”.
Markets are microcosms which reveal the deepest and truest identity of places. They are pivotal resources and assets (both socioeconomic and cultural) for tourism destinations, be they established or on the rise.
Supporting evidence abounds. When you think of Palermo, you can feel the energy of the Ballarò market, a whirl of swordfish sardines olives pumpkins cucumbers, as well as a feast of addictive finger food (octopus, stigghiole, vastedda ca’ meusa, panelle, cazzilli…); alternatively, you see yourself wandering around the Vucciria, a polychrome universe (the word market is something of an understatement) which also features in the famous 1974 painting by Renato Guttuso. Move to Rome and chase for spices in the Esquilino area. Explore Bologna, Verona and Padua and fall in love with the “mercati delle erbe” (i.e. herbs market). Discover Modena’s soul at the Mercato Albinelli, as you hunt for tortellini, zampone, Lambrusco, balsamic vinegar, nocino, crescentine…. Go cheese-hunting in Turin – there, Porta Palazzo is a treasure trove of Piedmont’s gourmet best (and that includes fish, too). Stroll around Barcelona’s Boqueria, a 1840 wrought-iron masterpiece located half-way along the Rambla at number 91 (close to the underground station), where you will enjoy scrumptious tapas. Do not miss Covent Garden, – the very heart of London – once a Benedictine convent (complete with vegetable garden), its neoclassical arches elegant and formal. The scenting suq in Marrakech, the vastest traditional Berber market is a profusion of fruit, incense and spices. And what about the renowned fish market in Tokio, surrounded by tiny shops and eating joints: built at the beginning of the 17th century, at dawn it is animated by the clangour of auctions and tuna wholesalers – the prelude to that kaleidoscope of colours and flavours which we (roughly) summarize in the word sushi.
Back to Italy, the Mercato Orientale, located in the lively central district of Genoa, provides further proof as for the storytelling potential of markets. The most celebrated food market of the Superba since the late-19th century, nowadays it is gaining a fresh reputation as a laboratory of tourism innovation thanks to a flagship pilot initiative focused on “pesto tourism”. The iconic fare of the Ligurian capital – challenging tomato sauce for the coveted top spot as the world’s n. 1 sauce – is the protagonist of a project designed by tourism expert Luisa Puppo (Ligucibario®) and targeted to Italian and foreign gourmet travellers. Pesto tourism is conjugated in a variety of declinations, including events, conferences and also an experiential tour (“Pesto Calling”) marketed by the Artès group.
The exploration of the market and its surroundings is structured through “Genoese for a day” hands on experiences (click here for further details): shopping for the best pesto ingredients, taking the advice of stallowners (and bystanders) in order to pick the first-quality garlic, Italian pine nuts, coarse sea salt, basilico Genovese DOP, Parmigiano reggiano DOP (aged 24 months), Fiore sardo DOP (aged 10-12 months) and, last not least, EVO, the gem of the DOP Riviera Ligure; selecting the fittest utensils, i.e. marble mortar and wooden pestle, in an old traditional kitchenware shop; learning how to taste pesto like a pro and decide on the best wine matchings guided by a food and wine lecturer; and, last but not least, – improving mortar and pestle skills with the help of a pesto chef. If you want to earn more, click here.
The press officers of the Agenzia di Promozione Turistica “In Liguria” are actively promoting the pesto tourism project through their networks: it is no coincidence that, after hosting German travel journalist Annette Rübesamen in July, on September 25th Luisa Puppo and the Mercato Orientale welcomed English food&wine journalist and blogger Fiona Sims, investigating Ligurian gastronomy for an article which will feature on “The Times”. Accompanied by Luisa Puppo and Mario Enrico, the president of the Consorzio Mercato Orientale , Fiona Sims toured the market for a desk (better still, stall) research on the aromatic profile of fresh Genoese basil, Parmigiano reggiano and Fiore sardo. Pesto chef and manufacturer Luca Spanedda (owner of “Eccellenza ligure”) joined at the Ostaja ex Guglie in via San Vincenzo to deliver Fiona Sims a solo pesto class complete with mortar and pestle. EVO tasting techniques were described by Alessandro Giacobbe on behalf of the Consorzio DOP Riviera Ligure.
Fiona Sims was introduced to the secrets of “pesto awareness”, a matter of history, rhytes and operational hints – e.g., going for mortars made with Colonnata marble (its surface appropriately rough), peeling garlic cloves (and getting rid of the bud, too), using coarse-grained salt and young small-leaved basil, adding scant) EVO only at the end and – first and foremost – keeping in mind that garlic and pecorino sardo represent the skeleton structure of pesto. Those who opt for blenders are to know that both container and blades are to be pre-cooled in the freezer to prevent basil oxidation from excessive heat.
The final traditional Ligurian lunch coordinated by Luisa Puppo displayed a selection of vegetable savoury pies, hearty minestrone Genovese, trenette with pesto, potatoes and green beans and a glass of Pigato, the pleasantly aromatic indigenous white wine from the Riviera di Ponente.
We hope you had a nice trip back home, Fiona – Genoa’s smile along with you!