This afternoon, I ventured downtown in the car, snaked around the streets in snarky traffic, and wandered down Virginia Street in the brilliant sunshine. And of course, I was headed to…
I’ve been resisting writing about the Market here. It’s such a Seattle cliche. You’ve seen the videos of burly men in orange waterproof overalls, flinging fish above the heads of gawking toursists. Those of us who live here roll our eyes as we walk by, toward the fish markets deep in the Market, where the tourists never make it. And the image that still delights me when I see it—the Public Market sign in neon red, against a blue sky, a green and white ferry gliding by on the waters of Puget Sound—makes me cringe a little when I see it on the thousandth postcard. No writer wants to write about that place, again.
Except that the real place, when you’re walking in it, is different, and better, than the postcards could ever be. A clothesline of colored chiles against the skyscrapers in the background. A man swathed in balloons, selling squeaky animals to passing children. Photographers hawking their wares on the cobblestoned streets with a smile. Lefty’s World, a thin sliver of a store on the underground level, selling items only appropriate to left-handed people. The magic shop, stuffed with trick coins and disappearing rabbit hats. Sosio’s Fruit Stand, where all the men working there (especially the gay ones) flirt with you kindly as you pick out fresh basil. Mexican grocery stores selling coconut candies in the colors of the Mexican flag and rows of Goya garbanzo beans. Cheese shops with a tempting spread of cheeses around the world. A Bolivian restaurant with a balcony overlooking it all. And about a hundred other sensory details and little curiosities. When I’m there, I cannot stop smiling.
The Market is enough to convince even the most stubborn and sullen that eating gluten-free is actually a blessing. Here is a small smattering of stores to visit in the Market (and there are many, many more. You’ll hear about them all eventually.):
° DeLaurenti’s is a gourmet, gluten-free girl’s dream. Stuffed with unusual foods, expensive olive oils, and more luxuries that will soon become basics than any place I have ever been, DeLaurenti’s always tempts me. As I walked by with some friends today, they suggested we stop in. “Oh no,” I said. “We have to eat lunch first. If I go in there hungry, I spend $140 without even thinking about it.”
° Luckily, we ended up at El Puerco Lloron instead. Down the hill from the Market proper, on the Pike Street Hillclimb, this is a little gem you might easily miss. Look for the brass pig in front. When we first walked in, I noticed the young Mexican woman behind the counter, pulling off a mass of dough from her pile of fresh masa, pressing them into the tortilla press, and flipping them on the griddle, methodically. “Hey, I did that yesterday!” I thought, then pointed out to my friends. Of course, hers were much more even. It’s an unpretentious place, with wobbly tables and a breeze blowing through the windows. As someone had written in the newspaper review tacked up on the wall, it’s like a little cantina on a border town. Ten choices, all with warm corn tortillas. I had the biscet de pollo, which was grilled chicken in a spicy red sauce, with fluffy rice and pinto beans. And a Jarritos lemon-lime soda. And I’m guessing that wheat flour has never touched the place. I was beaming with the good food, knowing I wasn’t going to get sick.
° Beware when you enter The Spanish Table. The wall of foods will entice you. The gorgeous pottery upstairs will start you dreaming of dishes to serve on them. And the little cafe requires you to sit next to the case of fresh cheeses from Mexico and Spain. I defy you not to buy any. I was thrilled to see something I didn’t know existed: Dagoba hot chocolate with chiles and cinnamon. Dagoba makes delicious organic chocolate bars that state “gluten-free” on the back. Try the Mon Cheri first. I didn’t buy any hot chocolate, because it’s August, but I’m going back at the first sign of fall.
° Beecher’s Cheese. They’ve been in business for a little over a year, making hand-forged cheeses. The open store with high ceilings inspires you to stay. Buy some cheeseboards and little graters. Their cheeses are all great, and now some of them have aged sufficiently to be considered great. But I still like the cheese curds best.
° Sur La Table will steal your money. Oh, I suppose it isn’t really stealing, since you hand over your credit card to them. But this exquisite cooking store is designed so nicely, nicely enough to make you wander through the shelves with your mouth hanging open in amazement. Le Creuset cookware. Pasta makers from Italy. Large plates in vivid jewel tones. Garlic presses. Espresso machines. Pepper grinders. Walls of cookbooks. Margarita mixes. Silpats. Kitchen-Aid food processors.…Okay, I’m out of breath just thinking about it. The people who work there are wonderfully knowledgeable and low-key Seattle. They don’t bob around you, saying, “Can I help you? Can I?” But when you have a question, they know. They’re all cooks and gourmets. My dream is to someday own every single thing in Sur La Table. That’s why I consider myself lucky that today I walked out with only: a new plate, saucer, and bowl; a Zyliss food chopper; a ravioli press; and this Jamie Oliver cookbook. I can only go in so often.
And that’s only scratching at the surface of the spectacle and rewards.
Whenever I’m in the Market, I remember the Samuel Johnson quote about London: “Whoever is tired of London is tired of life.” Yes, like that.
A few years ago, I dated a man who lived on 2nd Avenue, in one of the only tall apartment buildings in downtown Seattle. We had fun, for about two months. He made me laugh for a bit. We bantered. And then it ended. In fact, it probably should have ended before that. But the thing is, he was on the 20th floor, with enormous windows, overlooking Elliott Bay. Spectacular. But more than that, when I was standing up against his living-room window, with a glass of wine in my hand, I stared right down to the Market. We had our first date at Shea’s Lounge. We looked for Christmas presents in the empty stalls in December. When he wanted to make us dinner, he just walked across the street to DeLaurenti’s, and asked the guys at the cheese counter: “What’s best today?” We strolled through the cobblestoned streets at night, hand in hand. It was hard to resist. But that’s the allure of the Market. You’ll keep dating a man who’s not right for you, just for his proximity to the place.
During the summer, the Market has a special on Sundays. They block off the main street to cars and set out stalls filled with fresh fruit. And cooking demonstrations. This afternoon, Dawnula Koukul, from the indescribably good Cafe Flora, did a demonstration on cooking with carrots. The photo above is taken from the deeply satisfying Moroccan carrot salad she made for us (sadly, she didn’t give us the exact recipe). Better suited for fall, these baby carrots still tasted great with the sun shining on our arms.
2 pounds baby carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large orange
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 cup of cornstarch, mixed with 1/4 cup of water to make a slurry
salt to taste
° Clean and peel the carrots. Toss with the oil, put on a sheet tray and put in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes (or until al dente).
°Zest and juice the orange and lime. Put the juice and zest in a saucepan with the maple syrup, herbs, and spices. Bring to a boil, then add the cornstarch slurry and bring up to a boil again. Add the carrots, coat, and serve.