au marché: pike place market

While preparing for my recent trip to Seattle, I started having "fish fantasies". There I'd be, in a yellow rain slicker, steaming cup of coffee in hand, hanging with the Pike Place fishmongers at 5am. pikeplace_1

Needless to say, my co-travelers weren't having this. But I did motivate them to head to market around 8:30, on a surprisingly sunny day, with the promise of coffee in their near future.

pikeplace_2 For all my fantasizing, I really didn't know what to expect. I knew they might throw fish, a quirky gimmick I'd witnessed in the opener for Seattle's Real World. Given the market's tv-ready renown, I assumed I was walking into a relatively delicious tourist trap.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3vcGax9ojE

First, let me attest that throwing fish is a pretty efficient way to move the product. When we arrived, there were very few other onlookers, so we got to chat a bit with the 'mongers about their fish flinging style. They also let us taste their smoked salmon (I hate this "word", but mouthgasm seems an appropriate descriptor), and sold us a bit of salmon jerky for the road, while I wantingly eyed the king crab legs.

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As impressive as the fish was, the biggest surprises at Pike's were the flowers and fruit. Generously bursting bouquets of cabbage flowers sold for the New York price of a bad bunch of dyed carnations. The range of local,  vividly-hued produce was also impressive, especially the iconic-ly tart local citrus: satsumas. We were also seduced by one vendor's chili-spiced spin on huckleberry jam. In short, the whole market was a series of sensory revelations.

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If I did have one critique of the market, it would be this: when the other tourists did arrive, few of them seriously shopped. It's hard to support a market on tourism alone, and you could hear it in the mongers' banter. "Step right up, anyone with money." "Someone here who actually wants to shop?"

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It killed me not to have a kitchen. Next time I go to Seattle, I'm cooking for myself.

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au marché: open season at the new amsterdam market

The uncanny warmth of spring in New York City has inspired a flux in outdoor activity, from tanning to rooftop barbecues. Among the most celebrated gifts of the unexpected sunshine is the bounty of the city's markets. With more than 50 greenmarkets in New York City alone, everyone from the Brooklyn hipster, to the Upper West Side nanny, to the Wall Street mogul has access to a cluster of occasion farmstands in their neighborhood. But those who prize quality over convenience will attest that not all vendors are made equal. Despite the popularity of the notable “greenmarket” conglomerate – including the inimitable Union Square Greenmarket – independent cooperatives continue to be standout crowd-pleasers, such as the Hester Street FairSmorgasburg or the DeKalb Market.

My personal favorite stop for outdoor shopping is the New Amsterdam Marketopening for the season on Sunday, April 29th. Reviving the site of the historic Fulton Street fish market, NAM recruits an impressive range of entrepreneurial edibles, from food trucks to spin-offs of brick and mortar establishments, artisanal Brooklynites and farmers from both New England and the Tri-State area.

An added asset of NAM is its accessibility to bikers, since the waterside market sits along the East River bikepath. Among the worthy pit-stop snacks : the refreshing and savory “cold grilled cheese” from Morris (ricotta, zucchini, cucumber and mint on grilled sourdough) or the delicious brain freeze of red plum shaved ice by People’s Pops.  For those with less of an appetite, there are plenty of outstanding take-home treats, including the slightly sour and hearty Finnish Ruis bread by Nordic Breads or the award-winning Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar from The Cellars at Jasper Hill (which will make the bright orange block cheddar of your childhood slink away in shame).

Beyond its edible offerings, the New Amsterdam Market strives to re-invent the traditional New York "public market", with an ambiance as pleasing to a graphic designer or urban planner as any food enthusiast. And if that doesn’t sell you…the abundance of free samples should seal the (delicious) deal.

New Amsterdam Market Every Sunday on South Street, 11-4 Btwn Beekman Street and Peck Slip

 

*Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

au marché: richard lenoir market, paris

It is difficult to pick a favorite market in Paris - some have the best prices, others have higher quality or more unusual products and a few have simply incredible ambiance.  But if I had to pick one market in Paris to be the "best" market for first-time visitors to the city, I would pick the Marché Richard Lenoir.

This renown market is impressive in both its size and the diversity of its products.  Stretching north of Place de la Bastille (under the watch of the famous monument's gleaming angel), this twice weekly market fills a fountain-lined promenade with a motley crew of both vendors and shoppers.  As you enter on the Bastille end, you will walk past cheap clothing and hygiene/beauty products, followed by kitchenware merchants.  You will then see stands of prepared/hot foods, fruits and vegetables, and eventually dairy, meat and seafood.  Once deeply entrenched in the market, specialty vendors of Italian goods, honey, spices or wine will also dot your path.  (Word to the wise: it is worth walking the entire loop of the market before deciding on any purchases.  And a line typically means that a vendor has good value and/or high quality products).

There are two elusive and addictive foodstuffs sold at this market that I have never found of equal quality elsewhere in the city.  The first of these is fougasse, a doughy webbed bread, that I prefer stuffed with black olives.  This particular Parisian delight is an obsession of my bread-loving sister (who, ironically, doesn't like olives, but apparently loves olives encased in perfectly fluffy, soft bread).  The second time I lived in Paris, my apartment was steps from the Richard Lenoir market - and I can actually recall waking up at the crack of dawn, rolling my suitcase to the bread stand (before they were even officially set up),  and purchasing still-warm fougasse, just to hail a taxi and hop on a plane back to the 'States - just so she can have it (relatively) fresh. (Yes, it's really that good).

The second of these products is less portable, unfortunately.  Pain au thym  is a lebanese flat bread spread with olive oil and za'atar - a middle eastern spice blend of thyme, marjoram, oregano, sesame and salt.  Heated over a cast-iron dome, the circular flatbread is then folded into parchment paper, piping hot and ready to eat.

After thirty seconds of impatience (which are necessary, I have in overeager moments burned my tongue), the fragrant bread is ready to bite - inundating your taste buds with an herbaceous, salty and slightly acidic punch.  An empty stomach is an undisputed prerequisite for such a market trip, but filling that stomach immediately with pain au thym more than gratifies the short-term sacrifice (and may help inspire moderation during the rest of your shopping experience).

Last but not least, this is a market well-worn by savvy tourists, and thus easier to navigate for English speakers than others (for example, the nearby Place d'Aligre market, which is very popular and often preferred for daily shopping by full-time residents of the quartier).

If you have the chance, check out the Richard Lenoir market early on a Thursday.  It is far less packed than it will be on Sunday, and thus easier to grab the elusive fougasse (which tends to sell out in the first couple hours).

For more coverage of the Marché Richard Lenoir, check out expat foodie David Lebovitz's perspective.  And don't forget to visit Catherine, his favorite chicken lady.