December 2014…Phillip and I pack up our Wallingford apartment and bid Washington goodbye, heading south to the San Francisco Bay Area. A homecoming six years in the making, I now find myself a born-again Californian, re-learning my way around town and pining for the Pacific Northwest (pun intended). But before the ravages of time lead me to completely forsake the Evergreen state for the Golden one, I want to make a record of some of my favorite places in the Puget Sound as they were when I knew them best.
When I travel, the first place I want to visit is a market – a grocery store, a street vendor, a farm stand, it doesn’t matter. I love markets, so when a visitor asks for a good introduction to the city, I suggest a market and luckily Seattle has options far beyond big box stores like Fred Meyer (though, according to my mom, it’s the place to be – her undying/unyielding/unexplainable love of “Freddy’s” is as odd as it is sweet). There are over a dozen farmers’ markets, serving every neighborhood, and some grocery stores who really make fresh, local ingredients a priority. Washington is best known as the apple state, but let’s not forget that it produces 92% of the nation’s raspberries! 50% of the country’s cherries! And nearly as many pears! The largest food co-op in the United States is headquartered in Seattle! The food culture here is strong and I enjoyed getting to taste a part of it.
Wallingford Farmers’ Market // Wallingford // 4800 Meridian Avenue N
Where the children of yuppies run barefoot on the grass, and the kombucha runs six dollars a glass – that’s the Wallingford Farmers’ Market! From late May through the end of September, the Meridian Playground behind the Good Shepherd Center is an idyllic place to spend a Wednesday afternoon. It is one of Seattle’s smaller farmers’ markets, but you won’t find it lacking – on the contrary! It has fresh, PNW produce as you’d expect, as well as live music, hot food, meat and cheese, pastries, and what’s more, it all takes place on a lawn so lush, you’ll want to kick your shoes off and wander the stalls barefoot (and in a hippie love-child daze, you’ll “feel more connected with mother earth” and probably buy that expensive granola). Phillip and I would often bring a picnic dinner, blanket, and books, and do a lap around the market, stocking up on ingredients for the rest of the week. Be sure to take a peek at the flower stall, as we would often find huge bouquets of basil leaves selling for a dollar or two!
Ballard Farmers’ Market // Ballard Avenue NW, between Vernon Place NW and 22nd Avenue NW
Beyond its tasty little donuts, the Ballard Farmers’ Market serves up a feast for the senses every Sunday. For the fingers: there’s a fair bit of fruit and veg to poke and prod; for the nose: freshly baked bread and herbs ripe for the picking; for the tastebuds: goat cheese, pickles, raspberries (try ‘em all!). Stare mouth agape at pay-what-you-can typewriter poets; overhear the oddest of discussions*. Find a seat along Ballard Avenue at one of many cafés or restaurants for some fine people watching (Phillip and I always try for a spot at one of Anchored Ship’s tiny outdoor tables). It’s a lovely way to spend a weekend morning in one of Seattle’s most charming neighborhoods.
*A man approaches a butcher cart with his Great Dane and says, “So I was thinking that it would be good to start feeding my dog organ meat. Do you guys have any, like, cow hearts that you were gonna throw away that I could have? Or like, would I need to order a dozen?” The butcher declines with a shake of his head, giving a look that says, “You know, each cow only has one of those, right?”
Pike Place Market // Downtown // 85 Pike Street
The most famous food market in all of Seattle (and in all of the US?) is Pike Place, perched above the Puget Sound in the heart of downtown. It is perhaps most well-known for flying fish, but there is really so much more to see. Too much, in fact, as Pike Place hasn’t managed to escape the ravages of tourism (souvenir t-shirts, gemstones, and model airplanes made of soda cans) – and that says nothing of the hoards who line the other side of First Avenue. That being said, I love visiting the market for a chance to browse the stalls, sample what’s in season, and grab a bouquet for the kitchen table. I’d recommend that you wake up early to avoid the bulk of the crowds, and take some time to explore the market’s multiple floors – there’s always something new to see! My favorite spots are Lion Heart Book Store, First & Pike News, and Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt.
Uwajimaya // International District // 600 5th Avenue South
The Disneyland of Asian grocery stores, Uwajimaya’s brightly-colored aisles of common and uncommon sauces, snacks, and ingredients may take you a few hours to digest. I have certainly spent a weekend afternoon loading fruits and vegetables into my basket, tempted by bittermelon and dragonfruit though thoroughly unsure how to consume them. Uwajimaya has an impressive seafood department too, featuring live geoduck, sashimi-grade fish, and PNW salmon. There is also a great selection of prepared foods as well as an extensive food court whose offerings cover the entire Asian continent. Come hungry. Or come with a mind open to the idea of getting very hungry, very quickly. With so much to try, there is always a reason to return. I’m even planning my next trip as one thing I never did when I lived in Seattle was to make sushi with friends, with fish from Uwajimaya. It’s on my list and should be on yours, too!
The trouble with moving away is that when you return, it’s never quite as you left it. Has a new farmers’ market popped up in the neighborhood? Did kombucha girl finally cut her blonde dreads? Are gluten-free bakeries a thing of the past? If you know the answers to any of the aforementioned questions, you are someone with whom I need to talk!