Soulard Market: Home Grown and Ripe on the Streets of the Concrete Jungle
I grew up in a small town, nowhere too far out of the way, but teeny enough to have a regular market. My dad and I would go every weekend and look at fruits and veggies, gummy candy sold by the pound, sketchy beauty and cleaning products, and yes, even a few kitchen sinks. To my delight there was always an ice cream stand and my dad always walked away with a second hand book. And there was always someone, be it a neighbor or a vendor, to give opinions on how good a deal actually was.
It was never anything too extraordinary and no one visit stands out over the others. But when I moved away for college I began to realize how much I missed these trips. And then I heard about Soulard Market, a public market in St. Louis. The market is open year round (come rain or sleet or snow) and is an entertaining detour whether you’re interested in the produce or not.
Upon entering the market there is a butcher shop across from piles of flaky pastries and shelves of earth tone spice jars. Aisle after aisle of wares reach out into old brick-lined city blocks. There’s a mix of urban and rural that swirls with the scents of fresh peppers and faux leather “designer” purses.
As an amateur cook, the food variety and prices are enough to make visions of fresh dishes dance in my head. There are familiar apples, cucumbers, etc., but things like kohlrabi, of the turnip family, are new finds. But the great thing about the market is, that unlike grocery stores, the vendors know what they’re selling. Many of them actually grew the produce or at least hand-chose what they were going to sell. So if you see anything interesting or scary, the vendors are more then happy to answer questions.
While I went to Soulard planning only to buy some fruit, I walked out of there with banana peppers, a slab of ribs, candied pecans, and more. I also almost bought an Incan style snow hat. That’s the thing about Soulard, there will be something there you want, so bring your roll of Washingtons (it’s easier for the vendors then breaking larger bills). There are as many types of products, not all edible, as people who visit the market.
In fact perhaps the best way to enjoy Soulard Market is not with your canvas grocery bag and bargaining face, but by people watching. With times being tough (it’s too true to be cliché saying anymore) there are more people working as vendors for supplemental incomes and more shoppers looking for cheap wholesome food. Throughout Soulard there are different people and in the laidback aisles, away from St. Louis’s traffic, they’ll stop and chat. I met a nice gray-haired lady who peered over her mountain of vegetables and told me how to cook okra, a young scruffy man working the mini-donut stand who spoke some techie jargon that went over my head, and a middle-aged woman with crinkle cut blonde hair who discussed her favorite pork rind flavor with me. The people and experience give Soulard market a small townish feel that’s kind of off, like Mayberry with a twist of Twilight Zone.
And while Soulard is my favorite city market, many large cities have their own version. Nashville, West Palm, Chicago, and others have markets. New York has whole streets lined with street produce vendors. Wherever you travel, check out their market; they attract good people, good food, and good times in the middle of the big concrete jungles.