au marché: pike place market

While preparing for my recent trip to Seattle, I started having “fish fantasies”. There I’d be, in a yellow rain slicker, steaming cup of coffee in hand, hanging with the Pike Place fishmongers at 5am.

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Needless to say, my co-travelers weren’t having this. But I did motivate them to head to market around 8:30, on a surprisingly sunny day, with the promise of coffee in their near future.

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For all my fantasizing, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew they might throw fish, a quirky gimmick I’d witnessed in the opener for Seattle’s Real World. Given the market’s tv-ready renown, I assumed I was walking into a relatively delicious tourist trap.

First, let me attest that throwing fish is a pretty efficient way to move the product. When we arrived, there were very few other onlookers, so we got to chat a bit with the ‘mongers about their fish flinging style. They also let us taste their smoked salmon (I hate this “word”, but mouthgasm seems an appropriate descriptor), and sold us a bit of salmon jerky for the road, while I wantingly eyed the king crab legs.

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As impressive as the fish was, the biggest surprises at Pike’s were the flowers and fruit. Generously bursting bouquets of cabbage flowers sold for the New York price of a bad bunch of dyed carnations. The range of local,  vividly-hued produce was also impressive, especially the iconic-ly tart local citrus: satsumas. We were also seduced by one vendor’s chili-spiced spin on huckleberry jam. In short, the whole market was a series of sensory revelations.

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If I did have one critique of the market, it would be this: when the other tourists did arrive, few of them seriously shopped. It’s hard to support a market on tourism alone, and you could hear it in the mongers’ banter. “Step right up, anyone with money.” “Someone here who actually wants to shop?”

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It killed me not to have a kitchen. Next time I go to Seattle, I’m cooking for myself.

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