A Crisp $10
Doing dynamic dinners at farmers markets with one Alexander Hamilton.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
With the Pacific Grove Farmers Market launching this past July, you can dine at a farmers market just about every day of the week. The vendors are local, the food tasty and fresh. What more could a foodie ask for? Well, great deals– so I decided to visit farmers markets around the Bay to see what $10 can buy me.
MONDAY: Everyone’s Harvest Pacific Grove Certified Farmers Market Lighthouse Avenue, downtown Pacific Grove, 4-8pm (7pm in winter)
I followed my nose to an open barbecue billowing with smoke. I was surveying the white-tented food vendors– roast chicken, tri-tip, gyros– when swaying palm trees framed by an orangey-pink sunset caught my eye. I ordered a veggie spring roll beneath Thaiwaiian’s Technicolor banner and was handed a crisp, golden bundle. I squirted sweet and sour sauce over the roll that was about the length of my index finger. As my teeth penetrated the freshly fried skin, bean sprouts, glass noodles and shredded cabbage fell into my mouth. On its own, it would have been quite plain, but dipped in the sweet-tart soy-based sauce studded with garlic, the spring roll was quite tasty.
Maybe it was the free mini-falafel balls, but I was also drawn to Mr. Falafel and Hummus, where I ordered a chicken shwarma. Remembering the Arabic word for thank you, shukran, I grabbed my pita sandwich and sat down on the curb to unwrap my main course. I took a bite and hiding in the pillowy-soft pita bread were savory chunks of chicken breast spiced with cumin and pepper.
I ended my very satisfying meal with a throwback to my childhood– a Sparky’s root beer float.
Check please: Vegetarian spring roll: $1.50 Chicken shwarma: $6 Falafel balls: free (or 10 for $3) Root beer float: $3 Total: $10.50
TUESDAY: Old Monterey Marketplace Alvarado Street, Monterey, 4-8pm (7pm in winter)
At this popular market, Korean rice bowls, deep-fried calamari and Bavarian bratwurst beckoned. Yet a yellow banner emblazoned “Russian Blintzes” in bright red letters stood out.
The words “vegan” and “wheat-free” usually send me running in the opposite direction, but this time I was curious. Ilya, the man behind the blintz, said their vegan batter is made with canola oil, unbleached white flour and water. The wheat-free version is made with chickpea flour. Ilya worked quickly, pouring equal amounts of batter into two crepe pans sitting on makeshift burners. Then he scattered spinach, tomatoes, green onions, feta and cheddar cheeses over each crepe and folded it into thirds before serving. For a truly vegan blintz, opt for lemon juice in lieu of cheese. The blintz almost blew my budget ($8) but it was definitely tasty, and quite filling. I loved its simplicity. The spongy crepe, just a tad sweet, was a delightful wrap for the barely cooked spinach and just-melted cheeses.
Lest you think this is a California-inspired concoction, vegetarian blintzes are not uncommon in Russia. “This is the vegetarian part of Russian food,” Ilya explained. In Russia, savory blintzes are eaten all day long and sweet crepes are usually breakfast food. But Ilya is happy to oblige with your choice of strawberry and the very American cheesecake and/or chocolate syrup anytime.
After gobbling up my crepe, I had just enough money left for a refreshing watermelon drink from Jiquilpan Frutas y Aguas Frescas.
Check please: Blintz: $8 Watermelon drink: $2 Total: $10
THURSDAY: Monterey Farmers Market (Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets) Monterey Peninsula College, 930 Fremont St., Monterey, 2:30-6pm
While there are no cooked-food vendors per se at this bustling market, I easily found some edible bits and bobs to cobble together into a meal.
A mound of briny bivalves and Rudy Figueroa’s smiling face drew me to La Marea of the Sea. Figueroa shucked the fluted shell of a Kumamoto oyster grown in Tomales Bay, Marin County, in one deft move and handed it to me. After giving his colorful array of condiments a once over (they ranged from horseradish, Tabasco, to chipotle pepper sauce), I picked out a coffee-colored liquid in a squeeze bottle and dribbled some over my petite oyster. “It’s soy, ginger, onion and red chilies. I make it myself,” he said. The salty, fresh flavor of the Pacific Ocean hit my tongue and slid down my throat easily. I couldn’t resist downing a Miyagi, a larger, meatier sample, next.
I wanted to try Figueroa’s seafood tostada of fresh crab and shrimp topped with salsa fresca too but he had already run out. I looked at my watch. Market hours were not even half over. It must be that good!
I settled on a sourdough baguette from Claudio’s Specialty Breads of Castroville, a wholesale bakery specializing in Italian breads and sourdough. Paired with slices of sandwich ham from Corralito’s Smoked Meats, I had me-self a sandwich– and leftovers for lunch the next day.
Check please: Oysters: $1.75 each | Baguette: $2.75 | Ham: $2.79 for 1/4 pound | Total: $9.04
SATURDAY: Salinas Farmers Market Main Street and Central Avenue, Oldtown Salinas, 2:30-6pm
Manila Ranch’s lunch box was a great value for the money: lumpia (Filipino egg roll), pansit (Filipino fried noodles) and a perfectly-glazed barbecued pork kebab. I asked about the kebab and the proprietor grinned. “It’s a secret sauce,” he said before divulging it was a sweet soy-based sauce. It was just as he described, plus a hint of the tropics. Pineapple juice, perhaps? I bit tender pork pieces off the stick in between scoops of flavorful rice and egg noodles stir-fried with shreds of carrots, cabbage and chicken.
I couldn’t resist a fruit cup from Frutas Frescas Barajas. Fresh watermelon, cantaloupe and pineapple chunks were piled high and sprinkled with salt, chile sauce and a few spurts of lime juice. The result– a refreshing mélange of sweet, sour and spicy.
Check please: Filipino lunch box: $6.25 Fruit cup: $4 Total: $10.25
SUNDAY: Everyone’s Harvest Marina Certified Farmers Market Marina Village Shopping Center, 215 Reservation Road, Marina, 10am-2pm
I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw the sign at this laidback market– Noe’s Churros. My mom’s voice buzzed in my head, “No sweets before meals!” Being the obedient daughter I am, I saved the cinnamony treat for last and headed for the taco stand.
The usual Mexican suspects– burritos, enchiladas, nachos– were on the menu but I went for some carnitas (pork) and asada (beef) tacos. Each taco comprised two warm corn tortillas strewn with meat, chopped cilantro and onion bits. I inhaled the garlicky shredded pork as quickly as the grilled cumin- and black pepper-spiced beef slivers.
Next, I had a baked potato with the works: butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese, chives, jalapeños… wait, jalapeño? I wasn’t sure about them jalapeños but I thought; What the heck?” To my surprise, the slightly sour marinated green chiles balanced out the creaminess of the sour cream and salty bacon and cheese.
No points for guessing what I had next.
Check please: Tacos: 3 for $5 Baked potato: $4 Churro: $1 Total: $10