This is what you feel when entering Rotterdam Markthal. It is overwhelming. The art at the very large ceiling is absolutely impressive with gigantic colourful flowers, butterflies, beetles and other living things. People have their necks up, staring at it, taking pictures and wondering. And I could not stop doing the same.
The building has somehow the shape of a platform horseshoe or as one blogger put it: it looks like a large Quonset hut. It has been opened to the public in October 2014. I will stop here talking about the architecture, at the end of the post there will be a few links covering the topic, still Wikipedia is a good start.
Ok, I came to visit the market hall because there was quite some good PR on it, and the official website created quite some appetite. But my mission was less about the architecture and art rather than what to find in terms of produce & food and market ambiance. Would this market hall be a gourmet paradise? How local would the products be? How would Dutch cuisine be represented? What would be different to other markets? Would I be disappointed?
The answer is not so simple.
What to see & buy
The market hall is quite huge and to see all stalls some time is needed. It is a mix of street food type of places, a bit of organic, flowers and tulip bulbs, Dutch cheese, Mediterranean specialities, meat and sausages from all places, tropical and local fruit & veggies, nuts, dried fruit, spices … you name it. What can be eaten and is popular will be there. But first the gems.
The stall which impressed me the most was the butcher “Nice to Meat“. It is a Dutch company which imports premium meat from all over the world, has some shops in the Netherlands and delivers to restaurants as well. The selection they offered at the Markthal was amazing. I do not remember having seen something comparable elsewhere. Their featured product is Wagyu ‘Kobe style’ beef from Japan. The Wagyu rib-eye came at a whopping 250€ per kilogram, leaving me a bit sad as my wallet was too small. Not only the quality of the meat was great, the lady at the counter really knew her products and was more than willing to share experiences even while knowing that I was not a buyer. I appreciate that.
Another butcher, this time an organic one, had kind of a pork TV at his counter with happy animals enjoying a bath in the mud – not live TV though. That definitely would give me a better conscience when buying meat. So I enjoyed the salami lollipops on a stick offered. The butcher has a dozen shops in the Netherlands – hopefully with pork TV as well.
As the Dutch are proud of their cheese with a good reason, some stalls catered for it. The choice was considerable, not very artisan, but perfect for tourists including myself. Getting blue, green and red coloured, flavoured cheese was worth a trial and for transport it is nicely vacuumed with a smile.
The spice and the nut stalls were very generous in their display providing the touch of an Arab market. The Mediterranean specialities stall added a similar flavour to it.
In general stalls had a nice offering, always neatly displayed. I often felt like being in a kind of modern supermarket which has a prominent interest in presenting fresh products. And the arrangements were often very symmetrical and less lush as I usually experience it at markets, but always colourful. This reinforced the supermarket feeling. The displays allowed easy and quick browsing, but the lack of “chaos” made it difficult to tickle the explorer instincts.
Getting a bite
For the street food lovers there are many opportunities to get a lunch bite. For those wanting a full menu there are also restaurants, but I did not have a deeper look into them. They seemed to look like typical modern ones, some on the first floor allowing to better obeserve the market buzz.
The stall of a family from Bosnia-Herzogovina got my full attention as I am fond of Balkan food (see picture gallery). Even if it was not presented as such on the menu, I got my Cevapcici with fresh onions. Nicely done served with a smile. Made me happy.
The market hall is a strong magnet for tourists and photographers. But also the local population is coming for a lunch break and purchases since there is a supermarket included as well.
In the first place tourists are looking at the magnificent painting on the ceiling but after a while the stalls get their attention as well. Some of the offering is focused on this audience, e.g. pre-packed selection of cheeses, without exaggerating it. And as one vendor said he is happy with the tourists as they buy quite a lot and do not just wander around. During lunch time the place got busy as the Markthal provides sufficient quick bites. So it is not always clear who is a tourist or not.
Still it did not seem that there was a regular clientèle present as vendors and customers did not seem to have the typical “we know each other” chit chat that can be observed at other markets.
Somehow I could not get rid of the feeling that I was entering a candy store: my eyes got wide open like a child. Later I realized that somehow things seem a bit artificial, lacking to a certain degree a “classic” market ambiance. Nevertheless it probably offers a successful new concept for small businesses to thrive in competition with supermarkets.
As Anezka Prokopova stated it in her blog: “A well-designed market is an infinite source of unintentional meetings and social interactions”. The Markthal has not established this type of ambiance yet, but it is too early to tell considering the only recent opening.
I remain curious how the Markthal will look like in the years to come and if it will establish itself as true European food icon – it is already an architectural one.
All in all: It would be a bad idea not to visit this landmark. Despite some gems, do not expect a food paradise, rather a “candy store” feeling.
A little link list:
- The official website
- A very sensitive post from the architectural student Anezka Prokopova – a favourite of mine (the post)
- A presentation with all the facts and recommendations on how to make the Markthal a better place via project for public spaces
- A exhaustive review of the Markthal by the Guardian
- The New York Times has to add it’s view as well
- From the Rotterdam city guide a quick introduction
- Some beautiful pictures from the blogger Roselinde
- John Laninga is the one who characterized the Markthal as a large Quonset hut