Story by Jacqueline Swartz
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA — San Francisco charms visitors with its scenery, cable cars and cool factor. It wows them with its food. Canadians heading to California will want to make sure they stop at the Ferry Building Plaza. With its fresh produce and festive scene, the attraction offers a deeper, more local experience than going to a restaurant in the Golden Gate City.
“Try the goat cheese … taste our grapes, they’re like champagne … we grow all the fruit for our preserves.”
Such are the sounds of the Ferry Building Market. A taste at every turn, long halls with restaurants, cafes, wine bars and shops offering all manner of edibles: cheese, bread, chocolate, olive oil, wine.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and especially Saturday, the lure is the farmer’s market. At the stalls in the front and at the back of the Ferry Building, farmers sell their just-picked fruits and vegetables, from grapefruit to persimmon, from artichokes to 20 kinds of lettuce inviting you to make your own mixture. Hungry? Buy your breakfast or lunch from one of the restaurants lining the wharf, or head for a food truck. Or go to the white, waterfront building next door and have lunch or dinner at La Mar, the lauded Peruvian restaurant.
Shoppers come to buy, enjoy and to learn. Who knew that there were so many kinds of pear? There’s a lesson in delicious fermented foods at the Farmhouse Culture organic sauerkraut stand, where the cabbage comes in jalapeno (carrots, onion, daikon radish), horseradish with leeks and carrots, and who knows what other blends, all healthy and low-calorie.
Some foodies like to spot celebrity chefs — Berkeley’s Alice Waters is a regular … And then there’s the pleasure of sitting outside and gazing at the Bay while savouring a po’ boy fried oyster sandwich from the Hayes Street Grill, a noted San Francisco restaurant that cooks breakfast and lunch at its outdoor Ferry Building stall. Or you can order fresh oysters from the Hog Island oyster bar. Or head for the Primavera booth and try a fish taco or the local favourite, chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast with multiple ingredients: fresh corn tortilla, organic eggs, your choice of beans, topped with chipotle, chunks of avocado and cheese.
Know the Rules of the Game
The outdoor market has some strict rules. “Nothing can be sold that is not produced around here,” says Dave Stockdale of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). Not all the produce is certified organic, but this is because some of the farmers don’t want to jump through the certification hoops. Still, only the farmer can sell the product. The vendors selling the succulent breakfast and lunch meals also use products grown by local non-industrial farms. And why not?
“We’re at the hub of some of the best agriculture in the world,” Stockdale notes. With the northern California microclimates, there is fresh produce rolling in all year. Still, the seasonal rule means that in winter you’re not going to get a slice of tomato in your sandwich.
“Farmers are helped by educational seminars from CUESA and by the low price of booths — around $50 per day for a spot at this premium destination,” he says. Some, like Cowgirl Creamery, have both indoor stores and outdoor stalls. (Don’t leave without trying the Mt. Tam triple-creme cheese.) Indoors, the Cowgirl Creamery store sells a variety of local cheeses; San Franciscans revere the Humboldt Fog ash-ripened goat cheese made by Cypress Grove.
Markets can be both tempting and frustrating for the visitor who has no place to cook. At the Ferry Building Plaza, there are some easily packable items. In the front outdoor farmer’s market, Glashoff Farms sells preserves in small jars (try the lemon marmalade and the lemon curd, both made with local sweet Meyer lemons). In the back, the area facing the Bay, Marin Gourmet sells a delectable artichoke and caper dip. And olive oil producers sell 50-millilitre mini bottles of the golden elixir..
Both the temporary outdoor and the permanent indoor spaces began as the result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which destroyed the part of the freeway that was a barrier to the market and made the waterfront a derelict no-go area. The Ferry Building, with its clock tower modelled on a 12th-century Spanish bell tower, withstood the earthquake. Stockdale notes that when it was decided not to rebuild the freeway, “the potential was there for one of the great markets of the world.” Since 1994, when the indoor market opened, it has grown by 50%, and one of the oldest parts of the city was reborn. The area is owned by the city, so there are no worries about condos and high-rise hotels sprouting like unwanted weeds. “There are no new buildings,” reports Stockdale, “only the restoration of old buildings.”
A Ferrie Nice Time at La Mar
One of the benefits of the revitalized waterfront was the rebirth of boat travel from the Ferry Building to Sausalito and to Alameda in the East Bay. Commuters to the Financial District in downtown San Francisco rely on the ferries, but for visitors it’s a dreamy journey. And what a lunch you can pack!
Close to the Ferry Building Market, in a wharf-side high-ceilinged heritage building, La Mar serves Peruvian specialties in an atmosphere of city buzz or water-side calm, depending on whether it’s warm enough to dine outside. The restaurant, which opened in 2008, is known for its ceviche. Not only is there a variety of fish, but the fixings too, vary, and all of it reflects the country’s Latin-Asian heritage. Cebiche Chifa ($16) is a Cantonese fusion of yellowtail with peanuts, scallions, ginger, pickled carrots and daikon, habanero, wonton strips and cilantro in a sweet and sour sesame oil and leche de tigre, the classic marinade of lime and chilies. Best bet: The combination cebiche la mar ($34), which includes classico, mixto (yellowtail, calamari and shrimp, with Peruvian corn and yam), Chifa, and Nikei, which is tuna, red onion, daikon, avocado, nori and sesame in a tamarind sauce.
The anticuchos, grilled skewers inspired by Peruvian food carts, include succulent pulpo ($18), grilled octopus with sautéed Andean corn, Peruvian aioli, finished with chalaca (diced tomatoes, onions, lime and olive oil) chimichuri. There’s a good wine list, with wines from California, Spain, Chile and Argentina. And the Pisco Sours are well known among habitués. La Mar is open for dinner and for lunch — a great place to go after shopping at the Ferry Building.
MORE ABOUT FERRY BUILDING MARKET
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Address: Ferry Building Marketplace, One Ferry Building San Francisco, California
Visitor Information: Click here
MORE ABOUT SAN FRANCISCO
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