28 January 2013 | Boston, MA
One of the joys of island cruising is shopping at all the wonderful open-air markets. I love to walk to the markets, talk to the local vendors and discover new produce. During our recent cruise of the Caribbean, we were lucky to spend two months docked at Port Louis Marina in Grenada. Each Friday or Saturday, I could hop off the boat or take a short bus ride (when it was really, really hot) to one of the country's best markets. Here, the wonderful market women shared their produce and personal recipes with me - instructing me on how to cook food I had never even heard of - green bananas, cassava - and the dangerous, but tasty callaloo.
Now at dock in Boston, I still get to enjoy my market days. This past Saturday, I grabbed my shopping cart (the same one I used in Grenada), hopped off the boat and headed into town. Okay, I did feel one immediate difference from my Caribbean experience - it's only 19 degrees out -yep, that's Fahrenheit - brisk - so I walked bit faster into town.
Since 1830, Haymarket Square has been the location of Boston's open-air fruit and vegetable market, and it's still a great place to shop. The market is run by a 200-member Haymarket Association with some of the stands operated by the same family for several generations. Newer immigrants from Asia, North Africa and the Caribbean also now have booths adding to the variety of produce. On this trip I bought apples, oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, onions, snow peas, garlic, carrots, lettuce, cilantro, sweet potatoes, mushrooms - and a pineapple. I also could have purchased mangoes, papayas and even green bananas - but my cart was getting full. What I can't find at Haymarket (or on non-market days), I buy at Al's Grocery, just across the street in Boston's North End.
Haymarket is not a farmer's market or a green market - so you won't find organic or specialty vendors here. This is your supermarket fruit and vegetables but on a boater's budget. Vendors keep their prices low by buying their goods from Boston's wholesale markets in Chelsea (north of the city) on Thursday and Friday nights. The vendors pay very low prices because the wholesalers need to clear out their warehouses to make way for new shipments arriving during the weekend. We get to buy from them at about half the price of the high-end city supermarkets. On the downside, this means that produce can be pretty ripe - and sometimes past its prime - so it pays to really go early or check out each vendor for the best choices. I have been told haggling is also sometimes possible, especially late in the day. I haven't tried it yet, since these are Bostonians!
Haymarket is open dawn to dusk, all-year long except Christmas and New Year. The market is located between North Street and Hanover Street, next to the very historic and touristy Faneuil Hall Marketplace. No, you cannot buy produce at Faneuil Hall (also called Quincy Market by locals), but you can get an overprized bagel pizza or buy a shirt at Urban Outfitters for what would be our monthly clothing allowance.
A hidden gem of Haymarket Square is the Haymarket International Food Company. This great Middle Eastern grocery is located on Blackstone Street in a basement store next to the vendor tents. I usually stop by before filling my cart (too hard to get it down the stairs) and buy meat, nuts and wonderful flatbread. Upstairs the grocery runs a small, humble restaurant that makes meals from scratch - inexpensive and delicious - and makes a great place to stop for lunch.
Then back to the boat to try to figure out where I am going to store it all.