Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fantastic Markets

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Everyone loves a great market brimming with fresh produce, meats, dairy and baked goods.  But they seem exceedingly hard to find here in the Midwest.  I  shop regularly at Valli Produce, a local Italian grocery store.  In our area, it's about as good as it gets.  But the variety is not comparable to the good fresh markets.

Recently on my trip to Vancouver, I had the pleasure of visiting Granville Island's Public Market.  This market contains a fascinating assortment of colourful stalls, showcasing unique homemade products and the very finest in gastronomic delights. All fresh from the ocean, the oven or the field.  An entire large case of fresh homemade pastas was enticing.  The local seafoods looked like they had been laid on ice for a photo shoot.  In addition to the fresh foods, our party enjoyed a stop at pie booth.  I'm talking about a little stall where they served up traditional meat and seafood pies, all of which were so good looking it made choosing very hard. Another industrious cook had large kettles of interesting soups for sale.  Yum!  And talk about pâtisserie, they had some of the best baked sweets and chocolate candy shops this side of Paris.

In Chicago, we really have nothing comparable.  And when I visit most cities I do try to find the market. I've found in Florence and Rome, Venice and Vienna.  Seattle has a respectable market as does Atlanta (The Dekalb Farmer's Market. I'm told the Chelsea Market in New York City is nice, but I've never been.  Perhaps you know others and are willing to share! However, nothing closer to home but a large selection of huge supermarkets filled with mostly stale goods and thousands of cans and boxes of prepared foods, mostly all the same.  The real difference lies in the fact that these public market places simply offer stalls for rent to local merchants that specialize in a single food product type.  They don't try to be all things to all people, but rather expert at the area of specialty.


In Barcelona I always visit their market.  Barcelona actually has two large markets, one much newer than the other.  I prefer the original market just off of Rambla. The first mention of the Market of la Boqueria dates to 1217.  A visit to this lively and colorful place is a must for the cook in the family.  It's an ideal way to discover why Mediterranean cuisine is internationally known due to its ingredients. The best products from Catalonia in one place: fruit, vegetables, fish and seafood, tapas bars and of course the famed cured ham (Jamón ibérico and Jamón serrano.)   It's packed with customers and brimming with some of the most wonderful looking food you can imagine.  It is a cooks delight, because it has literally everything you could ever want; from a huge stall of fresh spices to an enticing case of exotic fowl and mounds of ice keeping chilled the freshest of fishes.  You ask for eggs?  The question is 'what kind?' because they have all kinds.  From ostrich to duck to quail.  And all fresh too.  You say 'regular chickens eggs' and she says 'any special variety of chicken egg you prefer?  No?  Brown or white?  Organic or regular?'  The choices really seem endless!

Like everything else, the cuts of meat are also endless and since it is a butcher shop you can have exactly the cut of meat you want.  The only caution I would make is that as a good cook knows, you waste nothing.  And if you have a vegetarian in the family the skinned (but with eyes in place) sheeps heads or the entire pigs heads looking out at you from the case may be disturbing.  But if you can't find what you wanted to make for dinner in this place, it probably doesn't exist.  At least not in this region of the world, where they sell only the freshest and finest of foods.  If you get to Barcelona do drop in for a visit!

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