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Road Trip: Seattle’s Pike Place Market

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I fell in love with Seattle the first time I visited in the summer of 1993.  I was 25 and it was my first non-business trip by myself.  I had finally decided I didn’t want to wait for a boyfriend or friends to be available for me to explore the world and Seattle, the home of grunge rock and the center of my technology-driven work world, seemed like the perfect place to express my independence.  (For the record, my father was significantly less excited about this plan than I was.)

When I plotted out my trip, I foolishly allotted an hour for exploring Pike Place Market.  I ended up spending the entire day in this foodie paradise and dropped by each day for the remainder of the trip.  When I returned 10 years later, I was equally charmed.

Understandably, I jumped at the chance to return to Seattle when I was invited to attend the Seattle Chef’s Collaborative Farmer Fisher Chef Connection conference at the end of February and planned my trip so that I had time to visit Pike Place Market before the conference.

My first two trips to Seattle were during the summer, and the rainy, cold, windy February weather was a bit of a shock.  In the end foodie inquisitiveness beat out the need for warmth.  I rendezvoused with bloggers Keren Brown from Seattle, Allison Jones from Portland and a few of their friends at Dahlia Bakery for some pre-market sustenance.  We then headed into the wind and down the hill to Pike Place Market.

Dahlia Bakery

Pike Place Market

The market entices you with tastes from around the world and we started our journey with Russian pastries at Piroshky-Piroshky then delighted in hom bows and sticky rice just a few steps.  We tried fresh cheeses from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and drooled over sausages at Bottega Italiana.   We bought exotic spices at World Spice Merchants and Catalan delicacies at The Spanish Table.  We even giggled at the wall of chewing gum (which is really gross, by the way.)

Making pierogi dough
Pastries at the Pierogi shop
Beecher's cheese making
Beecher's handmade cheeses
Hom Bow
World Spice Merchants
Spanish Table goodiesThe chewing gum wall

And, of course, we watched them throw fish.

Before they get tossed

The big surprise for me at the market was the produce.  My first two trips were during the summer and long before I knew what sustainable food meant.  I never questioned the bountiful produce in the rabbit-warren of market stalls.  But, this time was different.  I rounded the corner from Pike Place Fish into the main market and stopped short.  Are those grapes in that booth?   Is that corn?  There is no way those things are from the Pacific Northwest – it was still FREEZING outside.

Produce stand

And, I had the “ah ha” moment.  Pike Place Market isn’t specifically a growers market.  If you peruse the list of vegetable vendors, there are a number of local farmers represented, but there are also resellers.  It caught me by surprise.

I realized that Pike Place Market hasn’t changed – I have.  It never would have crossed my mind to ask where the produce came from 10 or 20 years ago, but now it was obvious to me when I saw things that were clearly out of season.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ll still visit Pike Place Market when I come to Seattle.  I’ve never been anywhere else like it and love being able to celebrate so many different foods from around the world in one place.  But, next time I will also make sure I find a local grower farmers market to explore.

After my revelation, I refocused my attention on vendors selling locally sourced products.  Mixed into the reseller booths, I found local produce, seafood, meats, dried fruit and lovely handmade pastas to name a few.

Dried fruitDried cherriesDried pasta

After all that shopping, we needed refreshment and popped into Seatown, Tom Douglas’ new diner down the street from the market.  We enjoyed bread with lardo to start and I followed with a plate of oysters (the first of many meals that involved oysters on this trip) while most of my companions picked the Dungenes crab blt.  The Seatown Mary was terrific, a spicy and tangy brunch accompaniment.

Bread & lardoOystersCrab blt

We had a lovely time tasting our way through the maze of Pike Place market.  I made some great new food discoveries and learned a bit about myself too.  Not bad for a Sunday morning.

View the full photo set on Flickr.

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