Amanda Fisher takes a look at this new culinary treasure trove in one of Holland’s most lively cities
It’s no great surprise that the Dutch, with their penchant for sturdy situp-and-beg bicycles and a healthy outdoor lifestyle, have long preferred to buy their food fresh daily from open-air markets. You’d find them foraging for delicious local delicacies among stalls set up along streets or laid out in village, town and city squares the length and breadth of the Netherlands, all year round, whatever the weather.
All that changed recently in Rotterdam, which boasted one of the largest twice-weekly open-air fruit, vegetable, meat and fish markets in the country. New hygiene laws controlling the sale of fresh produce resulted in the ultimate in hi-tech covered food malls flinging wide its doors to welcome residents, visitors and tourists.
The Markthal (Market Hall) is first indoor market ever to be built in Holland, its planners and architects drawing inspiration from the covered markets of Stockholm, Barcelona and Valencia. Its importance as a new architectural icon was sealed in October 2014 when it was opened by Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.
Inside and out, the Markthal is stunning, flamboyant, deliriously anarchic and quite simply so enormous that at the first glimpse Lilliputian passersby stop in their tracks as they approach the 40 metre (131 feet) high horseshoe-shaped building that dwarfs everything around it.
Awe inspiring and ambitious, the Markthal is Holland’s revolutionary answer to the ultimate all-inclusive good food shopping and eating experience, with 96 fresh produce units, 15 food-related retail outlets, eight restaurants, a supermarket and 1,200 parking spaces housed above and below ground inside a massive building that dominates the heart of the original site of the city, near to Hoogstraat. Below lie the remains of the dam in the river Rotte that mark the foundation of Rotterdam in 1270 and give the city its name.
The Markthal took five years to complete at a cost of more than 175 million Euro, and stands in Binnerotte Square – once the pre-war centre of Rotterdam – next to Blaak Station, a few minutes’ ride from the Central Station on the Metro or via the overground rail service.
It’s well worth taking the time to admire the Wow Factor of Markthal’s extraordinary exterior before walking through the sheet glass doorway and entering the food equivalent of a dragon’s lair.
Described locally as the Valhalla of the Netherlands, the cavernous building is a vast and vibrant treasure chest of comestibles.
Fresh breads, biscuits, cakes and confectionary, dairy produce and poultry, fruit and vegetables, flowers and plants, meat, fish and fungi, all displayed inside one of Europe’s largest, most architecturally ambitious and surprisingly beautiful commercial buildings.
A stroll across the football-pitch-sized market floor is a treat for all the senses.
Row upon row of food counters line a series of long aisles. Each vies with its neighbour for the most attractive arrangement, laid out with such meticulous attention to detail and design its contents could have been plucked from a still-life painting by a 17th century Dutch master.
A tsunami of smells, from dark earthy fungi, through bitter chocolate to wild orchids, mixed with pungent cheeses, oriental curries, fresh-caught fish and roasted meats, washes over shoppers as they approach the aisles, scanning counter after counter brimming with gourmet goodies.
Looking is fine, but trying is best. Most stands provide shoppers with tiny tasters – mouth-watering morsels – to tempt even the most jaded palate.
Traditionally, the Dutch enjoy shopping at a measured pace. The choice and purchase of food and drink is a serious matter. Time spent at each stall is viewed as the ideal opportunity to stop for a chat, rest weary bones, discuss the weather, the latest fashion, the day’s news and gossip, while being regaled with information about how each item was grown, raised or bottled, before agreeing to buy a kilo of this, a handful of that and a jar of the other.
Stallholders exude bonhomie; they’re as expansive in the encouragement they give each potential purchaser as the passion they pour into their particular food product.
It’s a given that their offering is the best available on the market, so it’s only natural that they’re delighted to explain – usually in excellent English – every aspect of its production, extol its virtues and enter into each sale with the enthusiasm and energy of an evangelist.
It’s an educational experience talking to these seasoned producers who bring an incomparable wealth and breadth of knowledge to the table, happy to share tips for preparing and cooking to perfection, while also recommending a particular wine, beer or cider as the perfect complement to a meal.
My favourite stand is that of Heerlijk en Eerlijk Delicatessen. Visually astonishing and gastronomically challenging, its counters, shelves and groan under a staggering selection of mouth-watering smoked and air-dried meats, bottled herbs, spices, fruits, comfits, oils and vinegars, fresh seasonal vegetables, and 20 varieties of edible fungi with fantastic names. Many are displayed as they are grown – on blocks of sterilised sawn wood – looking for all the world like spooky props from the set of Into The Woods.
Browsing or buying, shopping is hungry work, and there are plenty of eateries sprinkled throughout the Markthal. Choose from snack stops to cafés, bars to restaurants, to enjoy a wealth of local, national and international cuisines.
One of the most unusual aspects of the Markthal is the designer’s clever use of the entire structure – above and below ground level – every nook and cranny serves a practical purpose
Internationally-renowned architect Winy Maas conceived the Markhal as a thriving, sustainable community unit, that meets the latest ecological, environmental and energy requirements.
Maas has installed freight delivery, distribution, elevator and storage technology to service the ultra-modern shopping mall that drastically reduces noise, smell, light and garbage pollution to ensure that the Markthal’s round-the-clock operations impinge as little as possible on the surrounding inner-city neighbourhood.
Designs included spaces for bat roosts and swift nests to be installed in the façade of the building.
The Markthal blends not only one-stop shopping, eating, exhibition, conference, workshop and parking facilities on one site, but also manages to tuck residential accommodation neatly into nine floors of otherwise redundant wall and roof space.
Rows of 2-5 bedroomed units with triple-glazed wall and floor areas that provide unique and sometimes dizzying glimpses onto the trading area far below, make up 204 apartments and 24 penthouses in a mix of rental and freehold properties.
Balconies and roof terraces run the length of each side of the building’s exterior to provide open views towards either the river Maas or the 15th century De Laurenskerk (St Laurens Church).
Art mixes with design seamlessly throughout the multi-functional building. A ride to or from the underground car park on the escalator section offers the opportunity to travel back in time.
Each of the four floors of the journey represents a different era of Rotterdam’s rich and fascinating past, following a timeline that provides a rare glimpse into the history of a noisy, bustling, thriving port and its people.
Called De Tijdtrap (The Time Stairs), it’s a permanent exhibition of archaeological and cultural artefacts – ancient figurines, pottery, glassware, paintings, tools, jewellery, statues and weaponry – excavated from the Markthal plot during its construction. The displays are open every day and entrance to them is free.
Natural light floods into the Markthal giving it an open, airy feel thanks to glass walls entirely occupying either end. The huge panes are held together by pre-stressed steel cables, giving the impression of fishing nets thrown over the front and rear openings to catch shoals of shoppers.
The effect is extraordinary and wonderful in equal measure because, not only does the glass provide natural light to flood the inside, but it also allows a superb view of the large brightly-coloured mural splashed across the interior surface of the walls and ceiling.
Cornucopia (The Horn of Plenty), is a dual-purpose art installation that is positively hallucinogenic. Devised by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, it could be the Sistine Chapel ceiling painted on speed.
Instead of religious scenes, the artists have created the illusion of lying back in a summer meadow gazing at the sky while under the influence of something seriously stimulating. The effect – eyeballing vivid images of oversized, over-ripe fruit, vegetables and flowers that play host to giant insects and molluscs – is pretty riveting.
The mural is printed onto a jigsaw puzzle of 4,500 perforated aluminium sheets attached to acoustic panels for noise control, while the central section has been left white to play interactive video projections every evening.
The painted arch is a visual treat by day and night, its lively shapes and bright colours contrasting with the building’s slate grey exterior.
The Markthal serves not only the immediate district of Binnrotte, but also the whole of Rotterdam and its suburbs, and attracts visitors from Europe and the UK happy to stroll and shop while admiring its amazing architecture. It’s anticipated that up to 7 million people will make a bee-line for the Markthal every year.
Despite its large scale and uncompromisingly modern design, standing within spitting distance of a medieval church, the Markthal sits comfortably in the ancient market square and its neighbour, the Oude Haven (Old Port) area, with its floating museum of conserved Dutch barges.
It’s a delightful part of Rotterdam to wander round. Relax at one of the harbourside cafes, drinking in the atmosphere of this fascinating district where ancient architecture rubs shoulders with a host of contemporary bizarre, dramatic and exuberant buildings.
Particularly striking are the famously bonkers Cube Houses that form an Alice in Wonderland bridge linking Blaak Subway Station with the Oude Haven. Designed by Piet Blom in the 1970s, the Cubes are so delightfully winky-wonky and topsy-turvy that Number 70 has been turned into a visitor attraction, while another is available for surreal sleepovers.
The Cube Houses on their own might appear quite shocking in any city other than Rotterdam – famous around the world for the spectacular range and unashamed audacity of its architectural outpouring – but in this particular setting they make convivial bedfellows to a handful of iconic buildings from the 19th century. One – Het Witte Huis (The White House) – was built in 1898 to a height of 45 metres (147 feet), which made it Europe’s first skyscraper at that time. The white-glazed brick structure is typically Art Nouveau in style, decorated lavishly with sinuous organic designs, mosaics, tiles, medallions and statues.
Rotterdam is one of the largest ports in the world, so the best way to discover its jaw-dropping array of modern architecture is from the water on a tour boat or water taxi. Hire a bike, hop on a bus or tram to get a closer to the many innovative designs that have revolutionised the city skyline over the past century.
Delve deeper into the history of Rotterdam’s unique buildings and how the city will develop in the future at the Het Nieuwe Instituut – the home of Dutch architecture, material science, design technology and e-culture – that is set in the Museumpark among a fascinating collection of internationally-acclaimed museums, pavilions and art galleries. For full details see http://www.hetnieuweinstituut.nl
When cultural overload sets in, sit down to a scrumptious cream tea at Hotel New York – the former headquarters of Holland America Line. Situated on the banks of the River Maas, where thousands of emigrants left for North America hoping for a better life, the hotel is the perfect place to eat, drink, chat and chill in style – http://www.hotelnewyork.com
|The Markthal is at Ds. Jan Scharpstraat 298, 3011 GZ ROTTERDAM. The food floor is open Monday-Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday from midday to 6pm, while restaurantsare open longer and have street access. (www.markthalrotterdam.nl)The Markthal is easily accessible by train, metro, tram and bus via the Blaak Subway Station stop, that provides direct rail links with central Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague and Leiden. Underground parking for 1,200 cars.
Stay in the brand new citizen M Rotterdam – a stylish contemporary hotel next to the Oude Haven. Comfy, modern bedrooms have en suite showers and ambient lighting, while a touch-screen tablet controls lights, LED TV, music system, blinds and temperature. This relaxed and friendly design hotel offers free iMacs and printing, chic living areas and 24-hour reception, canteen and bar facilities. Conveniently situated near major public transport links, citizenM is across the street from the Blaak station, a 3-minute train ride from Rotterdam Centraal station.
Travel with Easyjet flying into Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, then by rail to Rotterdam Centraal Station, www.easyjet.com/en/cheap-flights/netherlands
Catch any of the 10 daily Eurostar train services from London or Kent to Rotterdam Centraal Station, see www.eurostar.com/uk-en/destinations/netherlands
Jump aboard one of the twice-daily Eurolines coaches leaving London or Kent, crossing the English Channel via P&O Ferries, before driving to Rotterdam. See www.eurolines.co.uk/destinations/netherlands
All routes are competitively priced. Rail and coach passengers have a larger baggage entitlement, and direct city-centre-to-city-centre services.
Amanda travelled with Eurolines Coaches to Rotterdam and stayed at citizenM Hotel, Oude Haven, a few minutes’ walk from the Markthal and Blaak Subway Station.