I go through bouts of homesickness, but even in the darkest of moments I know two things that will keep me here: Thomas, of course, and the amazing selection of open-air markets in The Netherlands.
These aren’t your typical farm markets as most stalls sell all sorts of fruits and veggies from near and far. A few sell more exotic items to cater to various populations in the country (cactus fig, anyone?), but all are like the best produce section of your favorite grocery store. But even fresher.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the market in Breda because it was a comfortable place to visit in my new country where I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable, especially in the early months. Even as a foreigner I could walk into the market and see things I knew even if they had names like wortel (carrot) or aardbeien (strawberries). I beefed up my vocabulary and could get lost among the swarms of people. I was afraid to communicate at that point because I didn’t know the language at all, but the wonderful thing about the market is it has its own universal gestures and bits of body language and in the end all you have to do is pass the stall worker a few euros and you’re on your way. No awkward moments at a cash register with a line of people behind you waiting for your bumbling, immigrant self to get out of the way. Here you could disappear.
I quickly learned to go where the old Turkish ladies are congregating and that’s where I found my favorite stall. I rarely buy from any stall other than this one (unless I’m visiting my beloved mushroom man) because the food is so damn cheap. I don’t care that you practically have to climb over people to get your order to the workers. It’s worth it. For example, a bag of six or seven paprikas (bell peppers) is one euro. One euro! I was sold from that moment on. It’s hard to beat that, especially when you come from a country where stores try to charge $1.50 a pound for one pepper. Other gems? Lemons and limes, five for a euro. Three kilos of delicious, Spanish oranges (this was over 10 oranges) - 3 euro. I could go on, but the lesson here is if you have food markets you should be shopping at them. And if you live somewhere with markets that focus only on local produce, even better. The markets in Breda aren’t strictly local, but when produce can come from Holland it does. For example, strawberries in the summer were from a patch right near my apartment. And the potatoes I’ve been cooking lately came from Friesland. Our markets also have stalls selling nuts and dried fruit, bread, and mushrooms.
Some tips for visiting open-air and farm markets:
1. Bring your own bags. This may be a no-brainer, but in Breda I practically have to force my chico bags on the stall workers when they weigh my produce. They refuse to weigh it in the chico bag and will only weigh it in a plastic bag. I’ve yet to come home from the market without a plastic bag, but I have been reusing them to wrap around things like green onions, parsley, and mint.
2. If it’s your first time to a market and you’re not sure of the selection, take some time to walk around and gauge the prices. My first time to one of the markets I went to the first stall, which had the premium spot on the corner. I realized after venturing deeper into the market that they also carried the premium prices. Lesson learned.
3. If you’re on a tight budget, try to stick to a list (preferably one you culled from your meal planning). I know the joy of hitting the market is going without a plan and just picking up what inspires you, but sometimes this can end up with you spending too much money on an item you know nothing about. If you still want to experiment without breaking the bank and your budget allows it, try going into the market with your list and giving yourself a set amount of cash to spend on something new. And only try a little bit of it. The worst is ending up with a whole kilo of something you just don’t like. If it changes your life, you can go back next week and get a bunch more. Saving money, even at the market, is an exercise in restraint.
4. If you do go to the market without a plan, at the very least come home and make a plan for the foods you bought on a whim. The worst thing is letting food go bad, so make a plan for it and don’t waste anything.
5. Keep an eye out for market-gouging. Mostly all of the produce I’ve found at my favorite stall is cheaper than in the supermarkets, but not always. I’ve been wanting to do a price book, but haven’t really gotten around to it. One thing I have noticed though is that as charming as the stall that sells dried fruit and nuts is, they’re selling that stuff for nearly double the amount I would pay at the Turkish grocery I visit. You can’t trick me, dry goods man!
6. Keep an eye out for adorable market people you want to visit every week - the market is full of characters! Our mushroom man is a complete curmudgeon with a few teeth that barely grunts when we ask for our oyster mushrooms or creminis, but we love him all the same.
This post is part of VeganMoFo - the Vegan Month of Food. Learn more about it by checking out VeganMoFo Headquarters where you can subscribe to a bunch of vegan blogs and drool over delicious and cruelty-free food.