Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's still travel if you're in your home town

We're visiting family in the Philadelphia area. While I was touring the farmer's market in LA, I couldn't help but think about Reading Terminal Market in my home town. I hadn't done more than rush through for decades now. Today, on a foray to Center City (what downtown is called in Philadelphia), I slowed down to smell the pretzels.

This downtown marketplace is right in the train station at Reading Terminal. The Reading Railroad is long gone, the suburban train lines now managed entirely by SEPTA. The station itself has been renamed Market Street East, to be helpful, as it's located on the east side of Market Street. But it's Reading Terminal to most of us who grew up here. So I'm a touring foodie in my own birthplace.

On the site of the outdoor markets dating back to the days of William Penn, the original market opened in 1892. The trains could deliver the goods to merchants, and homeowners could have their orders placed on the passenger trains heading out of town for pickup near their homes.

The space is enormous, all things considered. Since the two downtown rail lines were connected some years ago, Reading Terminal Market has risen in prestige and attendance. A large area has been outfitted with tables and chairs, so that you don't have to eat your cheesesteak standing up. Two of the 80 vendors can trace their history back to a century ago. And the Pennsylvania Dutch are well-represented, something you don't see in markets in any other big city. Men in straw hats and women in sheer bonnets work the booths, selling Amish delights such as shoo-fly pie and homemade jams.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Farmers' Market and 3rd Street Tasting Tour

The Farmers Market and 3rd Street Tasting Tour takes you through the bustle of the old open-air market in LA. Mention this market to locals and they get sentimental. On our 3+ hour visit, we ate our way through the market while learning about Frank Sinatra's pizza parlor and the buried secret recipe for caviar cheese. We ate the equivalent of a large meal, albeit somewhat inside out, beginning with a donut and ending with sushi, with French macaroons and candy and grilled meat sandwiched in the middle.

There are dozens of vendors, though oddly few farmers anymore. One of these vendors sold homemade sausages in combinations like "duck, elk and wild boar", "alligator andouille", and "artichoke garlic". A spice shop offered an explosion of hot sauces, whose fiery names bordered on obscenities. I won't repeat them.

Here's one vendor explaining the origin of his sausage mix. Hint: it doesn't sell pork when you remind us that pigs are cute.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Saturday Farmer's Market in Santa Monica

It isn't hard to find a farmer's market in Southern California, and we strolled through one on Saturday morning. This market focused on organic foods, which meant that they were sort of expensive, considering the lack of middlemen in the distribution process. Some of the stands were covered with mosquito netting, proof, it appeared, of no insecticides in the growing process.

Though we weren't in a cooking mood, or even an eating mood, it was a visual feast. Carrots in kaleidoscope colors, fruits brimming from baskets, and here you can see arugula in bloom. Edible flowers indeed.