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Porta Palazzo

The Anthropology of an Italian Market

By Rachel E. Black. Foreword by Carlo Petrini

Publication Year: 2012

Porta Palazzo, arguably Western Europe's largest open-air market, is a central economic, social, and cultural hub for Italians and migrants in the city of Turin. Open-air markets like Porta Palazzo have existed for centuries in Europe; although their function has changed over time—traditional markets are no longer the primary place to buy food—they remain popular destinations. In an age of supermarkets and online commerce, markets offer unique social and cultural opportunities and bring together urban and rural worldviews. These factors are often overlooked in traditional economic studies of food distribution, but anthropologist Rachel E. Black contends that social relations are essential for building and maintaining valuable links between production and consumption.

From the history of Porta Palazzo to the current growing pains of the market, this book concentrates on points where trade meets cultural identities and cuisine. Its detailed and perceptive portraits of the market bring into relief the lives of the vendors, shoppers, and passersby. Black's ethnography illuminates the daily work of market-going and the anxieties of shoppers as they navigate the market. It examines migration, the link between cuisine and cultural identity, culinary tourism, the connection between the farmers' market and the production of local food, and the urban planning issues negotiated by the city of Turin and market users during a recent renovation. This vibrant study, featuring a foreword by Slow Food Movement founder Carlo Petrini, makes a strong case for why markets like Porta Palazzo are critical for fostering culinary culture and social life in cities.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Contemporary Ethnography

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Dedication Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

The novelist Giovanni Arpino, like myself a native of Bra in the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont, once wrote that, paradoxically, Turin, the capital of our region, is “the most southern of Italian cities.” He was referring to the fact that, as a result of the employment-related internal...

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Introduction: Going to Market

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pp. 1-12

The piazza heaved and jostled in front of me. I did not know which way to turn. Warm bodies invaded my space, and elbows jammed into my ribs as I squeezed along the narrow corridor. My eyes searched for a focal point among all the moving shoppers and the stands, something to steady this...

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Chapter 1: The Market as a Field

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pp. 13-24

The bright orange tram rattles down the tracks and into the belly of the city, Porta Palazzo. I squeeze between the bodies holding tight to seats and handles. My shoes make a thumping sound as they hit the metal step on the way down to the gray street below. As I wander the long horizon created by via...

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Chapter 2: The Evolution of a Market

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pp. 25-45

What comes first: the city or the market? It is not always clear, but historically the development of towns and markets is often linked. Turin is no exception. Located in the region of Piedmont in northwest Italy, Turin was...

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Chapter 3: A Neighborhood, a Square, and a Market

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pp. 46-64

Porta Palazzo is one of the largest open-air markets in Western Europe, 51,300 square meters, with 4,991 square meters used for commercial activity during the market. It is not entirely open-air: it has several permanent pavilions and covered areas. On an average day, 756 licensed mobile...

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Chapter 4. Fare la spesa: Shopping, Morality, and Anxiety at the Market

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pp. 65-92

Perhaps you do not think of the tedious act of grocery shopping as a tension-filled or anxiety-producing activity; however, for many people, it is a minefield through which the shopper must navigate gender stereotypes, body image issues, class identity, and financial insecurity...

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Chapter 5. Il Ventre di Torino: Migration and Food

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pp. 93-118

One of the first things that strikes most visitors when they arrive at Porta Palazzo is the multiethnic environment of the market. As mentioned earlier, Porta Palazzo is one of the main receiving areas for migrants in Turin and has been for the last century. The first wave arrived from the...

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Chapter 6. Kumalé: Ethnogastronomic Tourism

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pp. 119-139

When I first started frequenting Porta Palazzo, everyone kept telling me I had to talk to Chef Kumalé if I was interested in foreign cuisine. In fact, I kept seeing this name on stickers on the doors of Chinese dry goods shops and Moroccan butchers in and around Porta Palazzo. Who was this mysterious...

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Chapter 7: Nostrano: The Farmers’ Market, Local Food, and Place

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pp. 140-168

As I turn the corner and head behind the Mercato dell’Orologio (Alimentare IV) at Porta Palazzo, I feel as if I have entered into the heart of Piedmont. The light, sounds, and smells are different here. The sun filters through the cast-iron roof of the...

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Conclusion: La Piazza—City, Public Space, and Sociability

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pp. 169-176

I walked out into the square—la piazza. I was standing in the middle of an empty space framed by high- and low-rise buildings. I could feel the void in the cityscape around me. Are there really any empty spaces in the city? I began to notice movement and the sound of metal wheels grinding against...

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Afterword: Porta Palazzo Market and Urban Renewal

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pp. 177-181

The last time I visited the Gate office, in 2009, I was surprised to find a rather discouraged group and negative energy in the air. It did not seem that the people currently working there could see their success; they just seemed frustrated by the constant resistance they encountered when they...


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pp. 183-189


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pp. 191-212


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pp. 213-219

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pp. 221

This book began back in 2001, and many people have helped and encouraged me along the way. The people who shop, work and live at Porta Palazzo made my experience there possible; they let me into their world, shared their bread and stories with me. Thank you Rosella, Luigi, Andrea, Piero...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205794
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244069

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Contemporary Ethnography

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Markets -- Italy -- Turin -- Sociological aspects.
  • Grocery trade -- Social aspects -- Italy -- Turin.
  • Grocery shopping -- Social aspects -- Italy -- Turin.
  • Porta Palazzo (Market : Turin, Italy).
  • Black, Rachel, 1975- -- Homes and haunts -- Italy -- Turin.
  • Turin (Italy) -- Social conditions.
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