Street Food: What Would Your Town Market Feature?

Last week, we proposed that dead or dying shopping malls be repurposed into new street food and community marketplaces. That got me thinking. What should my town’s market offer visitors? Fortunately, other cities offer examples of what works…

St. Lawrence Market - © blogto,comToronto’s St. Lawrence Market – Meats ‘department’: A classic historic
example of what a great town square marketplace can be…

I’ve been to Toronto’s famous St. Lawrence Market. And to the Farmer’s market in Kitchener-Waterloo. London, Ontario, deep in the southwestern lobe of the province, has a fine, old, historic market right in the centre of town. Back in 2005, I spent the better part of a day at the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market, so heavily influenced by the city’s location, right beside the ocean. And I’ve strolled the seasonal tents and stalls of more summer and fall-harvest fairs than I can remember.

And I’ve collected some good ideas from all of them about what a mega-marketplace should offer. Read on and see if you agree with me…

Local Produce Vendors

Of course. Not necessarily offering exotic stuff – but definitely stuff they’ve grown themselves, in season and stored in the traditional ways. Like last falls’ apples, wintered over in an old-fashioned cold shed. Or root veggies from their root cellar.

Local Produce can also star in purely seasonal roles such as single-product displays of local favourites like sweet corn, strawberries, new-crop apples, the first spring asparagus. New potatoes and real, honest-to-goodness baby potatoes are always in demand.

I’ve even seen one really successful stall that capitalizes on locally grown horseradish. Customers in the know line up for the stuff when it first appears!

Specialties like locally gathered honey always perform double duty. It attracts curious shoppers and providing a taste treat supermarket honey can’t duplicate.

Locally crafted specialty foods

Showcase Specialties

If, like my part of the world, dairying is a foundation stone of the food culture, remember that locally-famous brands (usually attached to multi-generational family businesses) are an essential for local markets.

A really special sub-set of theses products comprises locally-made cheeses. Eastern Ontario cheese makers have been in heated competition with one-another, some for nearly 150 years. Though Canadian cheese makes now make many varieties, the cornerstone of the industry around here is traditional Cheddar Cheese, the art and raft of which was brought here in the 182os and 30s by transplanted British dairy farmers and cheese makers.

Some say it’s the water, or the minerals in in the soil or the exceptionally contented cows. But Eastern Ontario Cheddar regularly wins international competitions.

Oddball finger foods

On another tack, most regions have something odd-ball that distinguishes their street and fair food from other offerings – even whole other classes of offerings. Here, it’s the dynamic duo of Fresh-cut fries and poutine. Regular readers will know all about poutine. Poutine, in fact is one of the few things all types of restaurants, food truckers and fair-stall operators seem to agree on.

Because Cheddar Cheese curds (so fresh they squeak when you bite into them) are so important an ingredient in the dish, we here in Cheese country take a certain sense of ownership in poutine, ourselves.

Where there’s poutine, there are always fresh-cut, fresh-fried Pommes Frites (as the Quebec contingent knows them). Whether you like your fries ‘classic’ (with salt only), or salted with gravy (2/3 of the way to poutine!), or (nowadays) with other toppings, you can get award-winning examples all over the Ottawa River Valley!

Baked Goods

Baked goods are always a hit at community markets. Whether boutique goodies or famous, family-crafted recipes local folks have loved for generations. Here in Eastern Ontario, real, original recipe butter tarts are always sold out at country village bakeries and market stalls within an hour or so of opening time. Ditto, classic date squares and turnovers, for example.

Savouries such as Cornish Pasties, Irish-style hand pies, and real Quebec-style Tourtière (with both pork and beef in the filling), are also much sought after specialties in this part of the world.

I’m sure your town or region has it’s own trademark baked goods that already make it a weekend destination.

Breads

Here in Ottawa, we have a creation called the Beaver Tail (see photo, top of page) – sort of a big oval funnel cake thing you can get topped with almost anything you want – though sweet finishes tend to predominate.

Sourdough and other specialty loaves are also scooped up eagerly at any market where they show up. Freshness, aroma and flavour are what folks are looking for.

One class of breads that folks trade in around here is seasonal specialties. Like Kaiser buns for big, juicy, oversized summer burgers sizzling-hot off the grill. Likewise, oversized hot dog / sausage / sub buns.

Depending on the immigrant cultures and cuisines represented in your region, all sorts of ‘imported’ breads may be traditional.

Who am kidding? The foregoing just scratched the surface of the myriad possibilities!

Preserves are primary

I’ve already mentioned the horseradish family whose stall is such a hit in my near-universe. And local honey.

In Eastern Ontario, local farm-simmered maple syrup is also a particular delicacy.

Every region has its traditional specialty pickles, jams and spreads (such as apple butter, for example) are also big draws.

If you build it…

As the disembodied voice in Field of Dreams says, “If you build it, they will come!” He was right. And the same goes double for farmers’ and town-centre marketplaces. I’ve never known of one that failed once it was established. Some have been around for a hundred years or more, in my part of the world – since their host towns were born. It’s the ancient principle: give people a place to congregate and a reason to come, and they will show up…

~ Maggie J.