Pike Place Market has become, in some cases, synonymous with Seattle. Locals take their visiting guests there on a regular basis. Seattleites know the tourist hot spots and where to find the best hokey shlack. We even have our preferred produce vendors.
While tourists have their own special relationship with Pike Place as a characterizing symbol of the city, what does the Market mean to a local? In my last few months in Seattle, I went to find out. It was a 9 a.m. on Wednesday when I passed the notorious bronze pig and entered the main entrance of the Market. But where were all the people, all the musicians, the tourists? The fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Company were playing to an almost non-existent crowd. Samuel Samson (pictured left), a Pike Place Fish Company employee, informed me that Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are very slow in the Market. While some people love the hustle and bustle of lost and bedazzled tourists, I welcomed the opportunity to peruse the Market without figuring out how to navigate the throngs of slow-moving onlookers. As I nibbled on samples of alder wood smoked wild king salmon, Samuel and I talked about what the Market means to him. He said meeting different people from all walks of life was what he looked forward to at his job. Even at 9 a.m., Samuel was pumped with energy and ready for a day of selling fish and telling jokes to his customers. I asked him whether it was Starbucks or Tully’s that fueled him past his 5 a.m. wakeup call. He replied it was neither: the people at McDonald’s will be glad to hear that its coffee satisfies this Seattleite’s affinity for caffeine.
After saying goodbye to Samuel, I wandered over to visit the Doughnut Company. After almost 30 years in the market, workers at this understated food stand report that like Sam, their favorite part of the Market is the people. We talked about what makes the Market special as they prepared my half-dozen assorted doughnuts. These little devils are fried in non-hydrogenated soy oil, fried only two inches wide for maximum crispy-to-doughy ratio. A third of my order was covered in cinnamon sugar, another third in powdered sugar, and the last third in chocolate and sprinkles. The amount of doughnut toppings was not too much to overpower the simple flavor of the oil and the delicate crisp of the dough.
Walking down the main drag of fresh produce and flower vendors, I stopped off at arcade number six to grab one of my favorite Washington edibles: the Jazz apple. The Jazz is a hybrid of the Royal Gala and the Braeburn, and produces a juicy, extremely crunchy, and tangy-sweet apple. Currently, the Jazz apple is only grown in Washington, New Zealand, Chile, and France, so you’re going to pay a pretty penny for them. If you’re a foodie and an apple nut like I am, you’ll gladly shell out the money for these exceptional apples.
A short stroll from arcade six, I was lured to the Chukar Cherries stand by the pleasant smiles of the twenty-somethings running the stand. It’s hard to pass up a free sample when the product in question is fresh, local cherries dried smothered in quality chocolate. Chukar Cherries started off as a Washington cherry-growing operation, but later the business realized that they were better at creating cherry products than the actual growing of the cherries. Now, Chukar buys cherries from the Prosser area, the Columbia River Valley, and the Wenatchee River Valley. A few of their more exotic products include pinot noir cherries, cabernet cherries, and the famous chipotle cherry. While at the stand, I sampled the dark chocolate-coated dried cherries with a bittersweet cocoa powder dusting. I must say, it was a perfect combination of tart, moist cherries, and the dense, strong flavor of dark chocolate. The bittersweet cocoa dusting kept the delectables from being overly sweet.
The people running the stand talked about the Market as I savored my sample. Based on our conversation, the employees at Chukar Cherries share the sentiments of the other employees I interviewed. They look forward to coming to the Market to work because of the people they meet. In addition, they appreciate the sense of community, directly contributing to the support of local business, and the relaxed work atmosphere the Market offers.
It was a truly enriching experience wandering through the market, taking on a new sense of adventure and exploration as a result of the lack of crowds. The Market workers do their best to put forth an agreeable demeanor to each one of their customers, but if you really want to get a chance to connect on a personal level with the people who grow and sell the food at the Market, stop by on a lazy Tuesday or Wednesday morning and have a conversation with them. It might take a while to break the ice, but if the vendors love the people at the Market as much as they claim they do, I have a feeling they’ll be willing to engage in a meaningful exchange with you. It sounds cliché, but good, homegrown food is a common denominator that brings together all sorts of people. Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back to Pike Place.