la boqueria

Food Courts in the United States have always been more equated with greasy pizza and fast food chains than local, artisan delights. But with the specialty food movement afoot, food courts are no longer what they used to be, and that’s a good thing.

In other places in the world, food markets are often not just an offering of fresh produce, but also a collection of dining options for specialty dishes, both regional and from around the world. Think about it this way: if you’re in Barcelona and you want lunch you head to La Boqueria, and you’ll expect an amazing meal, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to head to the food court at The Mall in Anywhere, U.S., unless of course you were on a strict ’90s diet of Orange Julius.

Fortunately, there’s a chance that things might be changing, with a new style of food court popping up around the country. Places like Union Market in Washington D.C. and Eataly in New York and Chicago now have Mario Batali’s contribution to food market culture. Anthony Bourdain is joining that list, too, teaming up with a retail group to create his own food hall in New York.

Is it the embrace of a new trend or simply a reversion back to a more traditional way of buying food? “It’s really just America catching up with some of the wonderful ways the rest of the world eats,” Stephen Werther, the chief executive officer of Wink Retail Group, who Bourdain has partnered with, told the AP.

But does this mean that food courts are destined to be healthier and more interesting? According to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), yes. As reported by the AP:

“‘The food court still exists, but it’s giving the consumer multiple different options, says ICSC spokesman Jesse Tron, noting that healthier and more diverse options are becoming increasingly common at shopping centers. Well-known chefs also are opening mall venues, Tron says, and even kiosks are sometimes being used for experiences such as rotating sushi.”

So, artisan charcuterie with a soft pretzel next time you’re at the food court? Maybe that combination isn’t as far off as one might think.

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Image: Ulf Liljankoski