Friday, June 02, 2006

a tale of two farmer's market

One of the great things about living in the Bay area is that there is no shortage of local farmer's markets. The town we live in has a farmer's market every Sunday that we visit on occasion. It's nice compared to others I've been to, but it's also small. So, last weekend, Mr. Cupcake and I decided to venture into the big city, and check out the two big farmer's markets in San Francisco. I spent some time reading about both online before our journey. My research concluded that one is very much a tourist destination and the other is big, but not as well known.

We decided to hit up the Alemany Farmer's Market first. This is lesser known of the two, but it's also been around longer. It was a little tricky to find as Google Maps led us astray. I gave my sister a call, and she guided us there all the way from Kansas! Isn't technology grand? The market was very busy and very large. Our local farmer's market has a lot of white tents. Here, however, the stalls are built in and so tents are not really necessary. Although, there were a few tents here and there.

There were two long rows of stalls like the one in the picture that were filled with local vendors. The vendors had tons of goods like flowers, fruits, veggies, etc. Mr. Cupcake was starving when we arrived, so we picked up a few pastries to satisfy our appetites.

Mr. Cupcake picked up a blueberry mango pastry from a local vendor. It was very tasty and his early morning grumpiness vanished. I debated whether or not to get the raspberry mango pastry which was similar to Mr. Cupcake's pastry or the strawberry tart. Unfortunately for me, the strawberry tart won out.

The strawberries were too tart and weren't sweet in flavor. I chose this pastry because the vendor held such high regard for the strawberry vendor he buys from. My lack of enthusiasm for the pastry left me unable to finish. We did ended up buying strawberries from the baker's favorite vendor, and unfortunately, they weren't very good either. Should have learned from the pastry. I don't know why it's so hard to find good strawberries. There are fields and fields of strawberries growing near us. I guess they focus their sights on mass producing them to look a certain way, but as a result they leave out the flavor. That was the only real bust in our trip the Alemany farmer's market.

We continued to peruse. Along the way, we picked up some deliciously firm, crisp grapes. I haven't had grapes that good in I don't know how long. We also bought some artichokes, garlic, blood oranges, a ginormous amount of basil for $1, and some really amazing navel oranges. Again, I can't remember the last time I had an orange that was so juicy and sweet. I always thought oranges were in season in the winter months, but I guess that may just be the Florida oranges. These oranges rocked my world.

There were a lot items that were very foreign to us. We didn't attempt to buy any this time since we were just there to scope things out. There were definitely a lot of things I'd never seen before. I will be more adventurous next time.

Before we left, we also picked up a tamale from the Allstar Tamale vendor. OMG, the tamale was amazing and it was only $2.50; you can't beat that. The meat was tender and the corn masa was perfectly fluffy.

AllStar Tamales has a huge variety of tamales to try and I highly recommend stopping by. Since this trip, I keep eyeing the tamales at Trader Joe's, but have resisted because I don't want to be disappointed.

The Alemany Farmer's Market was well worth the stop, but we had another market to visit.

Next up, we headed for the Ferry Building off of Embarcadero. The Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building is well known and also a popular tourist destination. There was actually an article in the NY Times a week or two ago about how the tourists are ruining this farmer's market. It's because they sample everything, yet don't buy anything which hurts the local farmers. I don't know, if they really didn't want the throngs of tourist, they'd move it to a less popular destination. The article also made a point about how this is something most tourists can't get a home. Being a self proclaimed foodie, it would definitely be on my list of places to visit if I didn't live nearby. I guess I can see both sides.

Anyway, we arrived around 11:30 and the place was PACKED. There were so many people, and I could tell a good majority weren't from the area. The farmer's market is located behind the Ferry Building and all the local growers had white tents. It reminded us of our local farmer's market; just bigger and busier. I wasn't very taken with this farmer's market for a couple of reasons:

  1. A lot of the vendors that were at the Alemany Farmer's Market were also here except they definitely charged a premium at this location. For example, cherries at the Alemany Farmer's Market were $3.50/lb., but at the Ferry Building they were $6+/lb. The vendor that we bought strawberries from at the first market charged $1 more per pound here as well.
  2. The scene very chaotic because there were hordes of people.
It wasn't all negative though. Mr. Cupcake eyed some green garlic at one of the vendors. We didn't see any green garlic at the other market, so we were highly tempted to buy. We both have a fondness of green garlic for its versatility. It was busy though, so we ended up passing. We probably shouldn't have since green garlic availability tends to be limited.

I was pretty overwhelmed by the number of people, so I'm not sure I really had the full experience. I'm pretty sure if we had arrived much earlier, the experience would have been more pleasurable. I didn't take any pictures of the market itself, so instead, you can enjoy this picture of the water sculpture that sits across from the Ferry Building.

Even though we weren't take by the crowds, we didn't leave empty handed. We went inside the Ferry building and visited the Acme Bread Company. I love Acme bread, and had not been to a retail location yet. They had a nice selection of pastries and they actually make bread at this location. Mr. Cupcake and I picked up an Italian loaf for dinner that night and a chocolate croissant.

The croissant was buttery and flaky. The chocolate was a little dry. It wasn't as good as the pastries in Italy. Though, if they had stuffed it with Nutella, then it'd be da bomb dot com for sure. I should write them and tell them to use Nutella.

My conclusion is that I'm glad we visited both markets. I'm all about experiencing things at least once. However, I definitely preferred the Alemany Farmer's Market because it didn't have that chi-chi vibe or the hordes of tourists. The people who were working in stalls looked like they came straight from the field, so it felt more organic and less commercial. If you go to the Ferry Building, go early as it only gets busier. Mr. Cupcake told me he thought we should go to the Alemany Farmer's Market more often because he felt the quality was better compared to our local market. I'm not opposed. :)


Jaye said...

Your side of the country has a few points more than mine for farmer's markets. Ours doesn't have food to munch on while shopping.

Can you tell me more about green garlic? What exactly is it, how does it compare to the everyday stinking roses, etc.

Well off to get some Nutella and croissants. Thanks for the idea, it's gonna be great!

madame cupcake said...

Green garlic is basically young garlic that hasn't fully matured. It still has long green stalks that look similar to green onion stalks. The bulb is also much smaller compared to fully mature garlic.

We were introduced to green garlic a long time ago by a farmer who specialized in garlic in KY. He and his wife would only have green garlic for a few weeks in the spring, so we always bought it when it was available.

Basically, you can use green garlic in place of normal garlic. I find the flavor is more mellow and not sharp as regular garlic. It's really nice. We also cook with the green stalk as well. Definitely try it if you see it!

Hope you enjoyed your croissant and nutella! I have a jar here and find sticking my finger into the jar and eating it can be very satisfying as well. :)