Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To Market, To Market

The South Market
The St. Lawrence Market, on Front Street, in downtown Toronto, is a relic from the past, in a city that has no sentimental attachments to its history.
It's a good thing Toronto isn't Paris or Rome, or even Montreal, or there'd be no more Eiffel Tower, Colossium or Vieux-Ville.

In their place there would be 82-storey condos.

The North Market

The 'Market' has been clinging to life for decades, as everything around it has been demolished, developed and gentrified, to the extent that it has now become a 'landmark', an actual enhancement for a new generation which values what it offers: the novelty of produce which has a passing acquaintance with the earth and the people who till it.  

There is definitely a revitalization of the old phenomenon known as  'Farmers' Markets' in our city.  It has resulted in several new versions opening up in various repurposed venues around town, like 'The Brickworks' along the Bayview extension and 'The Art Barns' at St. Clair and Christie.  


There are also Farmers' Markets which pop up all around the city, in summer, in assorted civic and church parking lots where agricultural entrepreneurs set up produce stands on predesignated days, each week, in case you prefer local, fresh-picked fruits and veggies to the plastic-encased, hormonally enhanced versions shipped to supermarket chains from agribusiness plantations south of the border, or, depending on the season, south of the equator.  

Here is the lovely "Rose" and her beautiful, hard-working daughter, Lena, from Bowmanville Farms, proffering their Niagara peaches and plums at the little pop-up market across from my house on Tuesdays.  Samples are cut up and set around on plates tempting you to load up on different varieties of tomatoes or beans, just to compare.  

How can I resist the elegant ruffles of the emerald kale?  
I have no idea what to do with it, of course.  Kale, as far as I know it, is a 'new food' and has never came up in any of my cookbooks before.  
Julia, Marcella, kale.  Did Lillian Kaplan know from kale?  
I can't find a recipe in 'Second Helpings' either.

What am I going to do with all the ruby radishes I couldn't resist?  How much 'farmer's salad' can a family consume?  

(Farmer's salad, or 'smetannik' for those of you not raised on this Jewish staple, is a mixture of Daiter's cottage cheese, sour cream, chopped scallions and radishes and whatever else you want to 'shit arein' ...Yiddish for throw in)

I've been going to markets for years, on and off.  I even make it my business to visit food markets wherever I travel.  A wooden table covered with boxes of zucchini blossoms or baby pink radishes with white tips is as exciting a sight to me as the Duomo.  (Well, maybe not quite, but almost.)

Veggie stand in Lerici, Italy (sigh!)

So it was of interest to me to learn that our very own St. Lawrence Market, the one I've been shopping at for decades, has officially been recognized as one of the best markets in the whole wide world!  I'm not sure who counted the votes, but I'm inclined to believe the propaganda.  It's certainly the most fun. Perhaps this international recognition will spare it from the developers for a few more years.

We try to pop down at least one Saturday morning a month, to stock up on fresh food and market specialties, but mostly it's for the entire aesthetic experience. Winter or summer, there's nothing like it. 

Free Samples

Everyone is friendly and personal, unlike the cranky or, at best, indifferent chain supermarket employees I've encountered my entire life.       

We begin with steaming cups of cappuccino from Pasta Mia on the lower level opposite the huge Stonemill Bakery.  Here's where we often sit and enjoy breakfast with friends and their kiddies, if we can wrangle enough chairs to cram around a little table.

My husband holds out for the "breakfast on a bun" offered to the line of eager patrons upstairs at "The Carousel" bakery.  This treat consists of fried eggs and melted cheese atop a pile of pea meal bacon encased in a fluffy bun.  A market special, it's available all week and was a big favourite with the police reinforcements during the G20 Conference.                                                                                                                                                                  

We cross over Front Street to the North Farmer's Market, where seasonal produce is flaunted on outdoor stands surrounding the building. The grocers in the South Market will tell you, even if you don't ask, that the 'farmers' aren't all that genuine and they get their veggies from the same sources as the regular, full-time vendors in the old market on the south side! (Who, by the way, have to pay a higher rent for their stalls!)  I don't like to get in the middle of this....I'm an equal opportunity shopper.

We grab a number at "El Gaucho" and wait our turn to select from their amazing array of fresh sausages ( funny stuff-ing!)  While we wait, we sample the merchandise, slivers of fresh cooked sausages, piled high on the counter.

A sweet potato muffin at the next table and then, in early summer, we grab a bouquet of spikey delphiniums or later on, in August, gigantic dahlias. from the Mennonite farmer at the next table.  By 10 am., he's sold out. In winter, he features many varieties of potatoes. Out of the earth, not plastic bags!  With mud still on them. In fall, if you catch him on the right Saturday, he has a stash of freshly plucked Muscovy ducks in his van, on Jarvis, which you can score, if you happen to know to ask about them.  

There's something very appealing about the whole thing, especially in mid-summer, when the fruit starts piling up from the Niagara orchards. The 'melon lady' offers free samples. I dare you to resist her overpriced cantaloupes!  Berries spill out of boxes, sunflowers brighten up the sidewalks.

Crossing back over, we are offered a free newspaper and make a donation to the street folks who graciously hold open doors for the heavily burdened customers.

We buy our seafood and fish and glorious hand-sliced smoked salmon from the guys at Mike's.  They'll make suggestions, kibbitz around a bit and vacuum pack your purchases if you want to freeze them.

See what I mean about happy?  (Try this with the checkout lady at offense....but really.  After 40 years of patronage, couldn't someone, anyone, ever give me a hello?)  This team is what makes shopping here such a terrific experience.

It's over to Scheffler's Deli for sliced meats and olives and a few slivers of prosciutto di Parma, offered up in dainty paper cups as tempting samples for grazers.  

Specialty olive oils and vinegars, cheeses and wonderful tapenade, artichoke and asiago dip and, of course, the ever-popular 'la bomba' sit in huge tubs ready for scooping.

Olives and antipasto fill the tubs around the entrance.  Juggling your purchases while you reach up high for the plastic containers for the food is an acquired skill.  At this point, I am definitely glad I travel with my very own 'shlepper'....he has very long arms after a morning of shopping at The Market.  For some reason, we've never invested in a cart. He's such a good sport!

If we need something very special in the meat and fowl category, we like to pop over to Whitehouse where they have everything. 
I haven't had the guts to try the Kangaroo or Camel, but Bison is pretty good.

Sometimes they even give us free veal bones for our stock making. 
Great stuff! 
Great woman in charge and hilarious guys who work for her. 
But order your holiday turkeys in advance!  The lineups can get pretty daunting come Thanksgiving or Christmas.
 Kozlick's array of mustards lures my husband for a taste....always something yummy to dip with the little pretzel sticks or cubes of ham they proffer.

We like to buy our produce downstairs at Phil's. In spring, he stocks fiddleheads and ramps. Everything is super fresh and fairly reasonable for the market. It's not a bargain kind of place but you feel you are getting good value. 

But I'm not married to Phil.  Upstairs, at Golden Orchard Fine Foods, they feature wonderful organic produce, including the world's very best sweet corn, available for just a couple of weeks in August.  (That's how you know it's freshest).  

Grown right here in Ontari-ari-ari-o!

Before we go, I check out Rube's where I stock up on rice and many varieties to choose from, scooped into paper baggies and weighed.  The old gent just passed away this year and is missed by all. You get to know the people who work there, and, best of all, they get to know you.  Talk about 'interactive'!

Of course, there are many other purveyors, too many to list.  You can't go too wrong.  You can skip the cooking altogether and just pick up Churrasco chicken, barbecued pork, chilli, fresh pasta, cheeses from all over the world and breads from every ethnicity.  

And then there's the music!  String quartets, jazz saxophonists, a kid with a guitar and big dreams, Peruvian wind bands and folk singers, among many others, encourage the kiddies  to erupt into spontaneous dancing.  Me too, sometimes.

I love The Market.  It's a party.  
Everything I buy there looks and tastes incredible.  Everyone smiles.  

It's my happy place.

Do you have any favourites?

TIP 1:  Sat. Mornings, early, are best for selection and room to move. The place gets crowded by 10:30 am and can be difficult to navigate, but it's still lots of fun. Parking gets tricky, too, especially since all the surrounding parking lots have been usurped by developers and turned into condos.  You can usually find a spot in a parking garage around the edges.

TIP 2: If you like a bargain, shop later in the day. Around 2:30 pm they start to pack it in and lower the prices on fresh food just to get rid of it. Especially the seafood. The market is closed on Sun. And Mon. so they can't leave it lying around.  Nobody wants old fish!

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