The ultimate food courts aren't found in shopping malls anymore, but often on roadsides, in parks, parking lots and under sheds. That's where you're likely to find local farmers, artisans and inventive food purveyors hawking their wares through those quaint pop-up operations called farmers markets. When the tents align and the banners wave, it's your invitation to stroll through lanes of vendors and enjoy some local goodness.
If you're smart, you'll bring your appetite, too. Follow the aromas for a smorgasbord of taste sensations that represent the diversity and creativity of South Carolinians. Think savory street tacos, spicy pupusas, smoky barbecue, wood-fired pizzas, novelty pastries, cake pops, frozen treats, hand-squeezed juices and so much more. To further whet your appetite, here is a small sampling (and we emphasize "small") of savory to-die-for eats you'll find at some of the state's most vibrant open-air markets.
8 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Daylight to noon, Saturdays
April through December
10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesdays
Daylight to noon, Saturdays
January through March
Brezelmann's Bavarian Pretzels: Gnawing on a warm, baked pretzel loop is the way many an Aiken resident begin their farmers market visit. These decadent treats from Brezelmann's Bavarian Pretzels are toothsome with just the right saltiness. Ropes of dough are made into pretzels one at a time, twisted by hand then dipped in an authentic German pretzel wash. Enjoy them as-is or dip them in mustard for extra tang. A lot of shoppers take a few home to pair with good beer - the Bavarians, no doubt, would approve.
8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays
April through November
Roti Rolls: There's a reason this vendor has repeatedly been voted Charleston's Best Food Truck and found national fame on food and travel channels. Despite the masses at Marion Square on Saturday mornings, you'll readily spy the Roti Roll Buddha banner that invites you to "Eat your way to enlightenment." If the line is long, don't worry - the Roti Roll folks keep things moving right along. Anyhow, you'll need some time to study the menu, a chalkboard crammed with various mashups of fresh, local meats, veggies and condiments. Take your pick, then marvel as the ingredients are married, then bedded on a hot, pillowy round of roti, a South Asian flatbread. Smoked beef, sunny egg, kimchi, verde - this union, called the Eye Opener, is guaranteed to awaken the taste buds and just one example of the scrumptiousness that awaits you. Smoked chicken and pork, pickled shrimp, candied onion, candy bacon, pickled cauliflower and more are available in various combinations for your noshing pleasure. One bite and you'll be a Roti Roller for life.
1 to 6 p.m., Thursdays
Carson Cottages, Old Town Bluffton
Vindaloo Junction: Mushroom masala, anyone? If you're into curries, Vindaloo Junction is the vendor to visit. Kishan and Joanne Shah, former Londoners, serve up some of the best Indian dishes in these parts. Their signature dish, Chicken Vindaloo, draws crowds craving the rich and spicy curry. Cauliflower and peas, daal and eggplant and peanuts are other faves. Bonus: If you can't make the Bluffton market, you can often find Vindaloo Junction at the Port Royal market on Saturday mornings.
9 a.m. to noon, Saturdays
Pierogi Hut: Mushroom and sauerkraut. Sausage, egg and cheese. Pork and ginger. Cabbage and pork. Potato and cheese. Tuck these combos into tender pockets of dough, boil or brown, then butter ‘em, and you've got yourself a mouthwatering helping of Polish comfort food. Get there early as the most popular varieties tend to disappear. Oh, and did we mention there's sometimes a blueberry version, too? Just another reason to hit up the Pierogi Hut booth.
Main Street, Columbia
Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Mary's Arepas: Bursting with exotic Latin American flavors, arepas are a two-fisted bundle of pure foodie bliss. A quick query of the crowd waiting in line is an indicator that people agree nobody makes them better than Mary's. A cross between a taco and a gyro, arepas are a sandwich-like staple in households across Colombia. Now, they are a mainstay of this fun, energetic market. A griddle lined with rounds of sizzling dough is your first clue that your arepa will be served up hot and fresh. The most popular version, in which seasoned, shredded chicken is topped with cheese and tucked inside the griddled dough, is set off nicely by any of the add-your-own sauces. (The avocado sauce is highly recommended.) Though you can eat it by hand, take a fork and extra napkins - you'll need them at some point as you gobble up all the deliciousness.
8 a.m. to noon, Saturdays
May through October
Main Street, Downtown Greenville
Papi's Tacos: A trio of freshly constructed tacos makes a fine market day brunch. Just ask the regulars who frequent Main Street on Saturdays for their weekly taco fix. Steamed corn tortillas give these Mexican "pocketbook" sandwiches authentic flair, but it's the seasoned, shredded beef and chicken inside that will tickle your taste buds. Homemade salsas made with fresh ingredients set off the flavors to full advantage. For fun eating on the move, try Papi's Travelin' Taco, a yummy mix of shredded chicken, lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo and sour cream scooped into a bag of Fritos. It's freaky good, amigos!