The Pike Place Market is visited by more than 10 million people each year, making it the most visited landmark in the Pacific Northwest. It has something for everyone but most especially for food lovers. To partake of its endless bounty, be stimulated by a variety of smells, sights, and sounds, and to feed off of its diversity and vibrancy, this is what I imagine utopia — my utopia — to be.
The Pike Place Market actually just celebrated its centennial last August 17, and I’m psyched to be here less than a month later. The place began as a farmers market in 1907, an “experiment” by the Seattle City Council to appease its citizens’ anger over high food prices. Food was bought directly from the producers, thus lowering grocery bills. Over the past century, the market has had its share of ups and downs, but today it’s a nine acre National Historic District, home to more than 250 permanent businesses, and more than 200 farmers and craftspeople. As a tourist, I’m surprised to learn that on site, there’s also a hotel, a clinic, child care facilities, a tarot card reader, a food bank, housing for low-income and elderly people, as well as a bed-and-breakfast. Who could’ve known?
Having fortified myself with breakfast at Macrina Bakery, I nab a map of the market at the information booth directly below the large Pike Place Market sign. I look around for Rachel, the market’s giant gold piggy bank and snap a few photos.
I begin my exploration of the market at the back of the Main Arcade where artisans and craftspeople have set up tables. I browse through everything from silver jewelry, hand-stamped leather belts, soaps, artworks, and t-shirts with funny sayings. I learn that the vendors here can sell only items that they make, in accordance with the “handmade only” rule enacted years ago and enforced by the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority.
Freshly-cut flowers and floral arrangements add colorful pauses to the long line of crafts and I can’t help but stop for a sniff and a shot. How I love those sunflowers!
Farther down the Main Arcade are permanent fruit and vegetable stalls, some with ornate displays that look set to topple at any second. The stall owners are well aware of this which is why they post large signs that make me laugh out loud: “Do NOT Fondle”, “No Grazing, Please”, and my personal favorite, “You Squeeze It, You Buy It!” What a hoot. I’m not at all tempted to touch anything since my eyes are drinking in all the spirit and vigor that each stall is exuding. My mind however, is working overtime dreaming up ideas and possibilities of things I could make with what I see: the Garnet yams, the butternut squash, and oh, what a pie I could make with those Bing cherries! Sigh. Everything’s so fresh here — I can’t stand it!
I pass a fruit stall where a woman is giving away slices of a fresh peach. I happily take one and revel in the sparkle of its juiciness and its strong, almost intoxicating aroma. It may just be the best peach I’ve had in my life.
At the Pike Place Market, Rachel the pig may not fly, but some of the fish sure do. When a fresh salmon (or I presume, any other whole fish) is purchased from one of the fish stores, people crowd around to watch it go sailing over the counter as the overall-clad fishmongers put on one of the best floor shows in the market. Hordes of tourists with cameras at the ready crowd around these stalls clapping and giggling at the banter of these jovial fishermen. It almost makes me want to buy a whole fish. While the signs say they’ll ship anywhere in the world, I doubt the Philippines is included. It is a long flight, after all. Still, what a show, and the sight of all that seafood is making me yearn for some clam chowder.
A few meters down, the heady smell of yeast and sugar lures me to the Pike Place Bakery, a non-descript store with a sign that urges me to say “hi,” to their bakers on the 2nd floor. I don’t do that, but I do ogle at the flying saucer-sized doughnuts, and the Texas cinnamon twists and rolls that are as big as my eyes have become. Outrageous, deliciously outrageous! The size alone scares me off, so I wander down through the dark depths of the market to search out the more unusual specialty shops.