Last weekend, Tom and I joined our friend Woody on a trip to Sao Paulo’s most famous marketplace, the Mercado Municipal.

Apparently, this is one of the “must see” places for visitors to Sao Paulo, and from the looks of it, the locals hang out there, too. It’s an indoor marketplace such as those I’ve see in Europe, a massive building with a towering open-beamed roof and permanent stalls for all the merchants. Natural light floods in from the high, stained-glass windows, and from the open doorways. And the air is scented with tantalizing hints of the riches inside.

We met more friends in the upstairs open-air restaurant section, where we dined on the famous sanduiches, pieces of fresh French bread piled four inches high with the meat and cheese of your choice. We also had pastries filled with tiny shrimp and cheese. Delectable! Our drinks were pineapple juice with fresh mint. The perfect accompaniment to the meal. The seating was long, family-style tables, and as we ate, the railings alongside the restaurants were lined with people waiting for their chance at a seat. It was crowded, but everyone was happy, happy, happy.

After the gut-busting lunch, we split up and Tom and Woody and I trawled the aisles, waddling amid the fruit, fish, meat, cheeses, olive oils and wines, candies, and other treasures in all of the booths. What a feast for the eye! We bought fruit from “Touch,” one of the first vendors we had encountered when we entered. I know how he got his name. He sure put the touch on us. We walked away with $100 worth of fruit…which we would have paid maybe $30 for in a store. Not the way to get repeat business, dude. (But I will say, the fruit was FABULOUS! and I was true to my pledge, we tried and bought new fruits. Below are two kinds of pitaya, or dragon fruit. The yellow ones are very sweet. So yummy! The red have juice like a beet, it will stain!, and is less sweet than the yellow, more like a melon flavor.)

I agree with the tourist books. Everyone should go to the Mercado at least once. We’ll definitely go back, but it’s expensive to get there (you really have to take a taxi), and it can be very expensive while you’re there, but what the heck. It’s an experience that your senses won’t soon forget!