Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Generous Nibbles of the Pike Place Market

After crashing at Jordan's place overnight, I'm excited to get out and explore Seattle. This is a city that's been trumpeted to me by anyone who's lived here. I think it's because they find me to be that exact blend of crunchy, pretentious, and way too sincere for my own good. Which, even as I write it down, sounds about right. And of course I'm reticent to admit it.
Still, I wish I had more time in the city, to get a sense of whether it really was a good place for me to be. Jordan drops me off at the Convention Center (where the shuttle will pick me up around noon) and says, "If you've got time, the Pike Place Market is just down there." It's only a few blocks, so I quickly sweet-talk a nearby Sheraton concierge into holding my luggage for a few hours, and make my way down to the market.
My first cup of Seattle-brewed coffee in hand, I marvel at the place. I know that for many New Yorkers, walking into the Union Square greenmarket, or even the new ritziness of Eataly, can be an enthralling experience. And those places are phenomenal--a great opportunity to meet farmers and butchers, ask questions, and peruse all the premium offerings of the day. But compared to the history and organization of the Pike Place Market, that stuff looks like a street fair.
I hear a big baritone voice holler out, "Fish coming up!" and turn to see a giant salmon go flying through the air. It lands safely over the counter in the footballer arms of another fishermen, and even this early in the morning, the crowd goes wild.
It doesn't hurt, of course, that the fishermen are cute (this guy reminded me of the adorable cop boyfriend in Bridesmaids)...
...and that they are wearing super-adorable overalls. I always thought that my major weakness in men was musical ability--but now I'm starting to wonder if what I really can't resist is the cooking-hunting-gathering type. These fishermen, along with the grinning, younger grocers of the market, will keep me strolling and smiling through the market all morning.
Yes, they're hipsters, and they're cute nonetheless. But they're only as good as the free samples they give--whether it's a slice of Yukon Gold pear or a chunk of smoked salmon, freshly made from the new, limited supply of Copper River salmon.
 One grocer talks me into buying a fresh peach for $2.50--it's a ridiculous price for one piece of fruit, but it's so juicy it drips down my chin, so it's hard to mind. There's a lot to look at, and through my camera, I feel like I'm eating a little bit of everything: shiny berries, gorgeous potatoes, freshly made bao.
One of the fishermen even slips me a spoonful of ahi tuna prepared in the Hawaiian Poke style. The tuna is so firm and sweet that it's more like dessert than seafood. I consider buying a full cup of it for breakfast, but eating raw tuna for breakfast doesn't seem like the most sensible option.
 So in my uber-nutritious style, I decide to buy a few mini-sized donuts instead, so hot from the fryer I have to wait for it to cool before eating.
What strikes me most is how free and loose the vendors are with their storytelling. A grocer takes time to tell me what garlic spears taste like (and I only wish I'd bought a bunch to play with.)
A farmer thinks that, when I ask him what's "primo" in the market right now, he thinks I'm talking about pot. I don't immediately correct him. I get to see everything at the market. I scoop up a bit of dried lavender for a sachet, and I dip a few bites of bread into a lazy susan filled with vinegars and oils.
The woman at Pappardelle tells me how they incorporate the caramelized sweet onion into their pasta before drying and cutting it into thin strips. (Their pasta is so beautiful, I almost don't want to know the secret. I'd like to assume it just emerges from their minds that way when they're coming up with new pasta options.)
They don't seem to mind that I'm asking questions, because they like answering them. I've met too many people in New York that keep their cooking or growing secrets behind closed doors, and I'm relishing the willingness for conversation. Maybe the West coast way is more like the Midwest than I imagine. But there's definitely an exchange going on, one that I feel privileged to be a part of.
I'm rapidly falling in love--with the community, with the dialogue, with the warm welcome I've been given. Oh, and did I mention that the farmers and fishermen are ridiculously cute?

In just a few hours, my journey to Orcas begins...will it be a microcosm of Seattle? Will it throw me right into the heat of cooking pressure? Will my questions be entertained, or dismissed?

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