Public markets started as a way to bring food directly to the public, without the higher prices, or delays, of a “middle man.”
Modern public markets are often cultural touchstones, providing a detailed look at the food, culture and customs of a region.
The new definition of a public market is of a year-round, carefully crafted, intentional and diverse medley of owner-operated shops, stalls and/or “daytables.”
However, many public markets offer more than just fresh food, they include arts, crafts, flowers and sundries. They are more than just “farmers’ markets.”
Here are three “must-see” West Coast public markets that are rich in history and diverse in dining, shopping and tourist experiences.
Vancouver, B.C.’s Granville Island Public Market
My daughter and I recently had the pleasure of visiting Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver, B.C.
It is everything a public market should be, with dozens of small shops of all kinds offering art, curiosities, jewelry, books, flowers, food and more food.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the market was the “food court.” Spread over two adjoining buildings, separated by a short breezeway, the food offerings spanned a multi-cultural panorama of tastes.
Among the offerings were Mexican, Asian, Greek and deli food along with bakery items, candy and snacks.
I enjoyed a traditional Cornish meat pasty while my daughter indulged in arancini balls.
I wandered through numerous photo and art galleries, a store with hand-painted silks, and the Granville Island Broom Company, which specializes in the art of handcrafted brooms. The day was over before we knew it. I can’t wait to go back.
I’s located across False Creek from Downtown Vancouver under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge.
There are 50 permanent retailers and more than 100 “day vendors” in stalls throughout the market selling a variety of artisan cottage-industry foods and handmade crafts,
The market also includes a “kids’ market” designed for children.
L.A.’s Grand Central Market
During the 20 years I worked in downtown Los Angeles, the Grand Central Market was only steps from my office. It was a frequent place to visit for lunch and snacks, as well as a few fresh veggies to take home.
The market has evolved in the years since to become a trendy gathering place for downtown L.A. residents and workers.
Grand Central Market opened in 1917, and offers visitors a 30,000-square-foot arcade of culinary and shopping delights.
About 100 years ago, Broadway was the commercial and entertainment corridor of downtown L.A. Bunker Hill, to the west, was covered with stately Victorian mansions, and residents rode down to the market on Angels Flight to shop for groceries.
Today, there’s a place to eat that can satisfy anyone’s palate.
From Berlin Currywurst to Eggslut, from Kismet Falafel to The Oyster Gourmet, the market has you covered.
Among my new market favorites are McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream (probably best for me they didn’t have that option 30 years ago) and Wexler’s Deli. (I am a sucker for a good corned beef on rye.)
I am most anxious to try PBJ.LA, the gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwich restaurant that recently opened at the market.
The trip from the SCV the Grand Central Market isn’t that difficult: Take the Hollywood Freeway, exit at Temple Street, stay in the center lane and go straight, make a left on 1st Street, right on Broadway. Turn right on 4th Street and right on Hill Street. Park in the paid parking garage at 308 Hill St. It’s $3 for the first 90 minutes and $2 each 15 minutes after that, with a maximum of $25.
Seattle’s Pike Place Market
The most common image associated with the Pike Place Market in Seattle is the oft-seen video of flying salmon being tossed among fishmongers at the Pike Place Fish Market at the front of Pike Place Market. The flying fish always attract a throng tourists and others who enjoy watching the fish soar above other creatures of the deep that are laid out on the ice-covered beds below. Landing with ease into the waiting arms of a rubber-aproned clad co-worker the airborne fish are quickly wrapped and placed into the arms of the eager buyer.
But Pike Place Market is much more than flying fish, the iconic neon-lit clock and a brass pig.
It’s fresh produce, intriguing shops, unique arts, crafts and fabulous food.
I was born in Seattle, and I still remember the first time I visited Pike Place when I was 9. The smell of fish, of flowers and of spice was intoxicating.
Pike Place Market opened Aug. 17, 1907, and is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States.
When you visit Pike Place Market don’t forget to “feed” Rachel, the brass pig, that sits outside the market at the corner of Pike Place and under the iconic “Public Market Center” sign and clock.
Rachel is a bronze cast piggy bank created by Georgia Gerber, a sculptor from Whidbey Island, Wash.
In 1986, the nonprofit Pike Place Market Foundation decided a piggy bank was needed to help raise funds to support housing and services for low-income neighbors. Fun fact: The pig was named “Rachel” in honor of a 750-pound pig who won first place at the 1985 Island County Fair on Whidbey Island.
The Main Market offers street-level stalls and a subterranean warren of shops. It stretches in an L-shape from 1st Avenue and Pike Street (named for pioneer builder John Pike) to Pike Place and then along Pike Place to Virginia Street. Across Pike Place, the Sanitary Market and related buildings rise toward 1st Avenue. The Sanitary Market got its name because it banned horses from it’s interior.
Artisan cheese, chocolate-covered Washington cherries, preserves, dried fruit and jams are plentiful.
Pike Place Market offers 30-plus restaurants, including an authentic Parisian bistro and a casual diner serving the fresh catch of the day with a view of Elliott Bay.
Many restaurants found in the market are multi-generational family enterprises. Market favorite Athenian Seafood Restaurant and Bar was founded as a bakery and luncheonette by three Greek brothers in 1909, the restaurant is still operated by the same family.
I can attest to the excellent food served at the Athenian. My daughter and I recently enjoyed the smoked salmon platter, Alaskan cod fish and chips and the “Famous Fishwich.” We cleaned our plates.
My all-time favorite items from Pike Place include the Growing Washington Strawberry Rosemary and Strawberry Vanilla Jam and the Pike Place Market Spice Cinnamon Orange Tea. I’ve been buying the tea for decades. It always reminds me of home.