An Italian friend who has lived in Boston for five years, and is a cooker and a baker from the bottom of her heart, was the one to introduce me to Haymarket. She told me stories about the variety of produce, and above all, how cheap it can be, though the value depends on some variables, e.g., the fruit is not the freshest. The market, which originated in 1742, is open every Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is right outside the Haymarket Station on the Orange and Green Lines — very close to Faneuil Hall and across the street from the North End area.
As my friend recommended, I first went to Haymarket on a Saturday evening because it is supposed to be the best time to bargain and have the best deal, given that the vendors just want to get rid of everything and leave. Indeed, I had a great time shopping! For $10 I got: two bags of spinach, one pound of tomatoes, two pounds of bananas, two pounds of carrots, one big eggplant, a bunch of asparagus, a box of strawberries, three zucchinis, four kiwis, three apples, and a large baguette — perfect for a student’s budget! Everything was ripe and ready to be devoured. For a little fresher produce it’s a little more expensive, maybe $12 or $13 for the same load of food.
If you were wondering, the reason for the good prices is very simple: the vendors typically buy their goods from wholesale markets in Chelsea across the Charles River on Thursday and Friday nights. They pay very low prices because the wholesalers need to clear out to make way for new arrivals during the weekend. So the Haymarket produce is what the wholesalers didn’t sell during the week to the city’s supermarkets.
Anyway, when I went at sunset, after getting home and searching for the mashed strawberry at the bottom of the box or the weak and slippery asparagus in the center of the bunch, I cleaned up everything and froze some reserves for the next week or any rainy and cold weekend when I would be disinclined to go. For example, I divided berries and overripe bananas into little plastic bags, and used them frozen to make smoothies. I also froze cleaned spinach, minced tomatoes, mushrooms, and chopped asparagus to use later in omelets. Yum! Another good idea is to freeze fresh herbs; it is always a better idea to use frozen basil than dehydrated because the flavor is much more rich and fragrant.
I have been biking there ever since that first time and I love it! I am not the regular who appears every weekend choosing potatoes, but I take the adventure every two or three weeks. Instead of going at night, I go early in the morning so I can choose between the avocado I need three days later and the one ready for dinner today. Every time I go, I have tons of fun discovering tubers I never saw before, listening to the vendors yelling in different languages, telling the fisherman how thick I want the salmon fillet, or trying to bargain with a man while his children distract me by playing around with a fantastic handcrafted doll.
If you feel more adventurous in the kitchen, you can find fresh fish booths around the corner on Hanover Street. Once, I bought a little octopus and cooked it “A la gallega,” i.e., boiled in very salty water and then chopped and sprinkled with olive oil, sea salt, and paprika. Delicious! Moreover, there are two meat markets and a grocery downstairs from the “Garden Halal” Lebanese restaurant, that I enjoy so much because they are always alive with a diverse crowd from Chinese young ladies, Russian old ladies, and Greek people buying spices, oriental teas, jasmine rice, poultry, or goat. There is also a little cheese shop where I found fresh cream cheese and feta at very good prices.
I went to Haymarket last Friday at noon and it was amazing. Now that the days are sunnier, trips are much nicer. Spring is evident in the new flower booth, or in the good mangoes for $7 a box! But the best of the best was a tanned Bostonian fisherman, standing behind his little icy booth, singing ’70s reggae out loud, and selling the freshest oysters and clams — four for five dollars — just opened and sprinkled with lemon and hot sauce. That was heaven!
Now, important things to know before planning an expedition to Haymarket are:
1. Buy just what you are going to eat in less than a week. Nothing survives more than five days in the fridge unless you freeze it.
2. Only cash is accepted. If you go to the fruit and veggie booths, go prepared with $1 bills and quarters. In the meat markets, they do take credit cards.
3. For better quality and flavor try to shop for seasonal and regional produce.
4. It is not a farmers or an organic market. It is the same fruit as in the supermarkets, but cheaper.
5. Shop early for better quality, shop at sunset for very cheap food that isn’t as fresh.
6. You could go at noon and have lunch at Haymarket Pizzeria, in the middle of the market where a mega slice is sold for $2.
7. Be aware of the old ladies with carts. They are almighty! And if one of them cuts the line as if there is none … you better say nothing!
Choosing my vegetables while talking with the same old lady every time, having a huge variety of products, and being so close and accessible makes the whole market experience very enjoyable. It makes me feel as if I was in my home country of Mexico!