Monday, August 18, 2008

The Eastern Market Experience

Because my son lives in Washington, DC, we have visited there several times and sometimes forgo the usual tourist attractions to see some of the neighborhood haunts. This summer was no different. One of the most interesting places was the Eastern Market, one of the oldest, if not the oldest farmer's market in the country is located in the Capital Hill area, not too far from where my son lives. Washington living is expensive and we decided to cook a couple of meals rather than eat out every night. "Why do the local grocery store when you can head down to Eastern Market?" was my son's thinking and he was right! The food was only one part of the experience.

Eastern Market is a gathering spot par excellence--busy and crowded with persons of every nationality and ethnicity. On summer weekends, a flea market fills the empty lot. Artisans of every stripe display their creations, including beautiful paintings, prints and photographs. One photographer has especially compelling photos that captured the buildings and culture of Washington beautifully. If only we had more money! If only we had not decided to just do "carry on!" If only he shipped!

Jewelry proves popular as women of all shapes, sizes and ages crowded those tents. Hand made apparel, antiques, pottery and even bikes had their spot in the market filled with people searching for just that one special thing that jumped out and said "buy me!" Or maybe a couple of things. Our packages paid for and wrapped, it was time to shop for that for which we came: the food.

The indoor market is filled with more permanent stands displaying all varieties of foodstuffs: fresh tuna and shrimp on one side and cheese and bakery goods on the other. There are a couple of meat stands; one carried fresh cuts of butchered meats while the other offered more in the way of smoked and processed meats. The bakery booth caught my eye with their enormous pies but, at $15 each we settled for brownies. If you were especially hungry and not planning to cook, you could buy a hot sandwich with fries and either sit at the lunch counter or carry it out.

Produce was represented only sparsely inside the building. The best selections came by visiting the street vendors where plentiful samples of fresh fruits, vegetables, sauces and dips were served. The weather was perfect and we browsed through at our leisure, stopping to sample many of the fruits of the farmers' labor. The greens, oranges and yellows of the peppers! The sweetness of the peaches and cantaloupe! The spiciness of the humus and fresh salsa! The musical sound of people speaking Spanish and the Chinese that sounds so unusual to the Western ear... So much for the sense to take in: each color, aroma, sight and sound all added to the adventure. Choosing just what to purchase for our repast proved difficult. In spite of our efforts at frugality, we ended up buying more than we really needed.

While we sat and enjoyed our meal, we visited the market again as we bantered about the vendors, the visitors and the variety of foods. We had little doubt: this was shopping at its finest and freshest. As well as it's most interesting. Historic in it's origin, location and longevity, I hope the story that is the Eastern Market goes on and on. It wasn't a grocery store. It was an experience to remember.


Lin said...

Ooooh, the whole market sounded delicious! I wish I could go. Aren't those just the best places to go when you are visiting someplace? They are so telling of the community and really make you feel like a part of it. I especially like the artsy folk as I love to see what people can do. Sounds like a blast!

Tao Master said...

Could you haggle about prices ? I take it the weather was good since you make no mention of it. No news is good news. A good descriptive piece which I could see in a travel magazine. Keep up the good work.