16 great farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.

Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market

The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.

Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.

Madison, Wisconsin
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.

Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market
overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.

Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.

Woodstock, Illinois

Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Holland, Michigan

The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.

Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.

Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.

Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market

As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.

— The above was written by Diana Lambdin Meyer, Seed contributor

Washington D.C. – Eastern Market

Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.

Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.

New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.

Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.

— The above was written by M. Fuchsloch, Seed contributor

Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.

San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.

South by Southeast: Five reasons to eat more street food

Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. In Southeast Asia, the center of daily life is the street. In Hanoi, pedestrians stop for a trim at sidewalk barber stands. In Bangkok, co-workers gather for steaming street-side bowls of noodle soup. And in Mandalay, men huddle at curbside tea shops, sipping milky-sweet chai while trading stories and gossip. You cannot claim to have visited Southeast Asia without soaking up this unique sidewalk atmosphere. And if you truly want to partake in this daily carnival of the street, you need to be eating the street food. Frequently.

I can already hear the objections. “I can’t eat street food, it’s going to make me sick. Isn’t all that greasy stuff unhealthy? I have no idea what I’m eating – it could be goat testicles or something!” All these fears harbor a grain of truth. But if you’ve ever had concerns about eating street food during your travels, Southeast Asia is the place to shove those fears down the disposal. Compare plates from your average restaurant in Southeast Asia against a street vendor around the corner and the vendor will win every time. Nowhere on earth will you eat such fresh, well-prepared and innovative meals – all for pennies on the dollar.

Still squeamish? Wondering what all the street food fuss is about? Keep reading for five reasons you should be eating more street food when you come to Southeast Asia.

%Gallery-83608%Because it’s cleaner than you think
The fear with street food is that it’s often unclean. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many vendors wake up while you’re still snoozing to grab the freshest, most tasty ingredients at the local market. In addition, the vast majority of street food is cooked over an open flame or simmered in a boiling pot. This high heat kills any organism that’s likely to make you ill. Not to mention you get to watch with your own eyes as your food is prepared. Compare this to a restaurant, where an invisible chef prepares your meal away from view. Yes, people do get sick from food in Asia. But if you take care to eat food that is properly grilled, boiled or peeled…you’ll be fine. Relax and enjoy it!

Because it’s the best on earth
Lots of countries have street food. But Southeast Asia has the best. The region’s unique blend of European, Indian and Chinese ingredients is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted: year-round supplies of straight-from-the-ocean seafood, colorful exotic produce and dizzying selection of spices combine to ensure a mouth-watering array of meals, snacks and desserts. Eating the street food of Asia is literally a tourist attraction in and of itself.

Because it’s a great way to meet locals
You don’t eat street food in Southeast Asia by yourself. Typically you’re sitting on a low-slung plastic stool, seated around a communal table. Even when you order, you’ll be chatting with your chosen vendor, offering a chance to practice some local language. The closeness of street food encourages conversation. If you’re traveling the region on your own, it’s a great way to strike up a conversation with your dinner companions and make new friends.

Because it’s good for you
When you think of street food, we often think of greasy snacks from deep-friers. But Southeast Asian street food is much more than deep-fried cuisine. Juicy ripe produce and top-notch ingredients ensure you’ll be getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients. Shockingly, “eating fresh” isn’t just a slogan invented by a fast-food chain – in Southeast Asia it’s a way of life. Cooks have been using healthy ingredients like “organic produce” and “locally-sourced” foodstuffs since the dawn of time.

Because it’s cheap
Each time I pay for my street food meal in Southeast Asia, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. After gorging myself on fresh, delicious food – meals which would set me back $20 or more at home – the bill is never more than $2-3 dollars. If you’re coming to Southeast Asia on a budget, street food is your secret weapon. You can use the savings to pay for nicer accommodations, extra activities or maybe a few souvenirs and still keep within a small budget.

Whether you’re already eating congealed pig’s blood for breakfast or you’re just beginning to explore Southeast Asian cuisine, we could all benefit from eating more street food. Have any street food (mis)adventures you’d like to share? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

Learning to cook Thai food

I’m sort of obsessed with Thai curries, and if it weren’t for that I’d be more obsessed with other Thai dishes. I love the balance of bitter, salty, spicy, and sweet, and I’m always trying to guess which ingredient in each dish supplies one of those four elements.

I’ve never had the budget to attend a Thai cooking school (which are everywhere in Thailand), but I made it a point on my recent two-week trip to the country to allow for one. Since I was spending close to a week on Ko Chang, I chose the class at Blue Lagoon on Khlong Prao, because I’d stayed at the guesthouse on my Lonely Planet research trip last year and loved it. The food was always spot-on, with most of the produce coming from an organic garden, and made even better by the ambiance of small eating pavilions that hover over the lagoon. Friendly staff rounded out the offerings, so I booked a 1200-baht (about $35USD), five-hour class.A staff of four instructed and prepped for our class of seven. As a group we decided which dishes to prepare (tom yum, tom kha, curry, pad thai, chicken with cashews, and mangoes with sticky rice and coconut milk). Two staff prepped the dishes, making sure we had the proper ingredients and portions, while the other two instructed us on how to chop vegetables, when to add stuff to the wok, how to extract coconut milk from the flesh of the fruit (it’s not the juice inside, by the way), and generally had a good time with us.

One of the instructors was the granddaughter of a woman whose original kitchen is available for tours; the recipes in the cookbook we got to take with us were all hers. While the dishes were typical, mainstream meals that are universally “Thai,” I still like the idea that somebody’s grandmother had added personal touches to some of my favorite foods.

Of the food we prepared, curry proved to be the most difficult. I’ve always believed that anyone who can read can cook (even though I’m a disaster in the kitchen), but with curry you also need some arm muscles. In theory you can use a food processor to make the paste, but, as with pesto, it is believed that using a mortar and pestle better brings out flavors and aromas. Grinding all of the ingredients up took at least 20 minutes and was more labor-intensive than kneading dough. Thankfully the staff had bulging biceps and took over for most of us.

I got to sit back and listen to one of my favorite Thai sounds, the “thock thock thock” of the mortar and pestle, and afterward enjoyed a Thai feast that I hope I can repeat back home.


Don’t just see the Great Wall of China, eat it

In preparation for the World Chocolate Wonderland exhibition opening on January 29, 2010, Chinese confectioners have created an entire Great Wall of Chocolate.

“You have higher and lower levels and you have to fit each brick into place, one by one, to build it up, it’s difficult,” said chocolatier Wang Qilu. The wall reportedly includes an entire “crumbling” section, just like the real thing.

The hope of World Chocolate Wonderland general manager, Tina Zheng, as well as many of the participating chocolatiers, is that the approximately 80 ton exhibition (including other wonders like 560 chocolate terracotta warrior replicas) will boost China’s chocolate industry.

“Chocolate has not been around in China that long, it doesn’t have that several-thousand-year history that it does in the West which has made chocolate as common as milk or fruit,” Zheng told Reuters.

The wall stands just 33 feet long, but is doubtlessly far more delicious than the actual, 5,500.3 mile wall.

If you’re interested in seeing China’s World Chocolate Wonderland, get yourself to the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium on January 29.

[via Reuters]



Papa Gino’s: a Massachusetts pizza that defies substitution

Massachusetts can be a strange place. It took forever for the major national chains to work their way into the state. I didn’t see a Target or Wal-Mart in my area until I got out of the army in 1999. Tastes and attitudes tend to be more than a tad provincial, so even the chains are usually local. When I left Boston several years ago, I was able to find replacements for just about everything I enjoyed – and was usually able to upgrade. How could I not? I’d moved to Manhattan, which is famous for having everything … except what it doesn’t: Papa Gino’s.

Papa Gino’s is a New England pizza chain. Most of its restaurants are in Massachusetts, though it has a few outlets in northern Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern New Hampshire. It’s the quintessential local chain – it’s big in the area and virtually unknown everywhere else in the country. So, when I knew someone who was heading up to Massachusetts, I asked him to bring back a few slices, which I ate cold the morning after his return.

To the pizza connoisseur, a slice from Papa Gino’s would probably be a disappointment. It isn’t exotic and lacks the character of its local competitors. Ask a Bostonian if he’d walk to the nearest Papa Gino’s or brave the Callahan Tunnel for a pie at Santarpio’s in East Boston, and he’ll have his car keys in his hand. But, expats view the world through different lenses, and a slice from Papa Gino’s is something we just can’t get – making it all the more valuable.

Eaten cold, a slice from Pap Gino’s is at its finest – unless you’re eating it cold and you have a hangover. It may not be a cure for what ails you, but it’s sure as hell a great diversion.

[Photo by Svadilfari via Flickr]