Christina Pappas arranges nuts, dried fruits and other Greek imports sold at the German market.
Christina Pappas arranges nuts, dried fruits and other Greek imports sold at the German market.
Oliver B. Patton
SHOP OP

Stuttgart's Global Market

At Stuttgart's Markthalle, shoppers find produce from around the world.
At Stuttgart's Markthalle, shoppers find produce from around the world. (Oliver B. Patton)

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

A mother and her small son, bundled against the cold, hustled hand in hand across the Karlsplatz in central Stuttgart. It was late afternoon, people were heading home and I was headed back to my hotel.

"Mama," the boy cried, spying Stuttgart's renowned market hall, "there's the Markthalle. Can we go in?"

She replied that they could but he should not get any ideas; tonight they would eat supper zu Hause -- at home.

When it comes to food, you have to trust a boy's judgment. I followed them in . . . and entered a banquet.

Arrayed in some 40 booths under the skylight roof were foodstuffs from all over the world, a global cornucopia from which you could put together a snack or a soup-to-nuts extravaganza. A thousand smells floated on the warm air, from which I could draw only basil, pickling spices and some particularly vibrant cheese before my nose was simply overwhelmed.

The colors: exotic fruits in shades of yellow, orange and green; a dozen varieties of tomatoes from red to pink; brown-crusted breads and cream-hued cheeses; dark, rich meats in every manner of preservation -- cured, smoked, sausaged, terrined, patéd. One greengrocer had leeks as big as a baseball bat. Well, almost as big. In a butcher's case: wild swine, venison, buffalo, guinea fowl, pigeon, sweetbreads and a filet of lamb no bigger around than my thumb ("Ze cooking -- very qvick!" he warned).

Stuttgart has a lot to offer in the way of high culture and is extremely proud to be hosting World Cup soccer this year, but for the rest of us, I recommend the Markthalle.

I will admit that the tomatoes gave me pause: A fresh tomato in northern Europe in January is a bad sign. Everyone knows that there are two kinds of tomatoes, August and canned. To make matters even more dubious, one booth was advertising its Romas as the fabled San Marzano variety. San Marzano, Italy, is the place were Mount Vesuvius erupted for the purpose of creating soil conditions uniquely suited to the growing of the ultimate sauce tomato -- meaty, low in acid and easily peeled. These certainly were not in-season Marzanos, although they may have been hothouse-grown, but in any event I cannot say since my German was not sufficient to the investigation. I can say, though, that Markthalle grocers do not stint in their efforts: Their tomatoes are a logistical marvel, flown in from Madagascar, Sardinia and the Canary Islands and, judging from a taste I had, carry a decent zing.

The market is housed in an art nouveau building constructed in 1914 in the heart of the city. Even on a pale winter day, its glass roof and clerestory windows admit enough light to give the large central space a sense of warmth. An arcade on the second floor overlooks the market and houses an Italian restaurant and a department store, Merz & Benzing, where you can shop for housewares of every description.

The fresh foods are delivered from the Stuttgart central market, where Markthalle greengrocers, fruiterers and butchers go at 3 in the morning to shop for their day's fare. This is not the sort of place where your average Stuttgarter will shop for the week's groceries -- the cost is 50 percent above what you'd pay at the supermarket, one greengrocer told me. But then again, she said, the food is world-class. The shoppers on the floor -- and there were plenty of them -- were picking up something special. And corporate interests come here for their entertainment table: Stuttgart is home to global giants such as DaimlerChrysler and IBM.

If you're just passing through, you could dine at either of the two restaurants in the Markthalle, or put together a very nice picnic. If you feel liberated by the latest research on low-fat diets, you could choose from the broad selection of wursts or from a dozen varieties of prosciutto, or try some Jamon Serrano ham from the white pig of Andalusia, dry-cured and aged 20 months. From the cheese counter, well, try a taste and take your pick. At a baker's booth you'll find broetchen -- crusty little rolls -- or slices from a loaf as big as the kitchen sink. For a full repast, start with a small marinade -- olives, shrimp or squid, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, beans -- and follow with a veal schnitzel with roasted potatoes. My choice would be pickled herring and onion on a roll, with a Riesling from one of the vineyards that cling to the hills surrounding the city.

For dessert, have an apricot from Israel or a selection from the chocolatier. If you're feeling homesick, there's always a Snickers: A booth in the corner has the double bar, very rare.

-- Oliver B. Patton

The Markthalle, in the heart of old Stuttgart at 4 Dorotheenstrasse, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on Stuttgart, contact the German National Tourist Office (800-651- 7010, http://www.cometogermany.com) or Stuttgart Marketing and Tourism,http://www.stuttgart-tourist.de/english/index.html.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company


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