Americans abroad tend to swoon over the riot of produce in the great European markets and Eastern bazaars. Nothing like this back home, they say, shutters snapping away. Wrong. Paris has Rungis and Barcelona is justly proud of the bounty in La Boquería, but few markets in the world compare with the mind-blowing cornucopia that is the Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley, California.
Initially housed in an old bowling alley and now in a former supermarket, the selection of every conceivable edible plant stretches as far as the eye can see. Almost a fifth of its 44,000 sq. ft. (4,088 sq m) is given over to fresh produce alone. What it lacks in picturesque atmosphere, it makes up for in astonishing variety.
Your recipe calls for yampi, mogua, arracacha and apple bananas? No problem you can stock up on all your exotic fruit and veg here. There are a dozen varieties of radish alone, and eight kinds of asparagus not to mention Asian and Latin American species that would baffle Linnaeus.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a veritable U.N. of cultural diversity, and the Berkeley Bowl satisfies a world of tastes. Chefs in their whites jostle with housewives for fresh nopales (edible cactus), ugli fruit and blooming wild onions. A young Dutchman raised in Mexico is discussing Maridol papayas with a Japanese mother, and a Berkeley student is hunting for his favorite red African yam. Forget the melting pot this is the world's best multicultural salad bowl.