Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Seattle - Pike's Place Market

Pike's Place Market is like Toronto's St.Lawrence Market on steroids - larger (spanning multiple blocks), beautifully set overlooking Elliott Bay and full of history.  A farmers market with fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, tea, flowers, bakeries, arts and crafts and more can all be found here.   A major tourism location for Seattle, it is open 7 days a week and is always bustling with people.  Rachel, a large bronze piggy bank collects money for market development and local shelters.

The market was started in 1907 as a way to cut out the middlemen between the farmers and the customers.  Threats of boycott and scare tactics from the middlemen kept most farmers away when it first opened, but the 10,000 patrons that showed up soon overcame any fears.  A poignant and touching multi-panel mural pays tribute to the Japanese farmers who ran over 2/3 of the stalls in the market until a presidential decree in WWII forced them into internment camps.  The panels are labelled "Song of the Earth", "Song of the Farmers", "Song of Joy", "Song of Sorrow", and "Song of Memory".

Starbucks originated in Seattle and one of the first locations still exists in Pike's Place Market.  It is a major attraction from a historic perspective, as it still uses the original coffee machine and the original Starbucks logo which is a bit more risquee with the bare-breasted siren than the current incarnation.  This is a very popular spot for buskers because of the number of tourists that line up waiting for coffee.   Seattle seems to have a very organized busker and street musician industry.  Performers pay a permit fee for the right to play at designated locations marked by a red painted music note on the ground.  There seems to be an unwritten honour code and rules of engagement for when and how long each artist can play for.

Pike's Place Fish Co. is as popular for their entertaining schtick as it is for the fresh seafood.  When someone buys a fish, it is selected by one monger, then tossed in a high arc to another for wrapping.  Large crowds gather around this stall waiting for the fish to be thrown.

There is no shortage of eating opportunities in the market.  For breakfast one morning, we had "Green Eggs (made with pesto) and Ham" at the Crumpet Shop.  A popular lunch spot is Pike's Place Chowder which sells many different types of chowders and sandwiches.  Rich got the Seafood bisque (Pacific cod, Northwest salmon, calamari, Oregon Bay shrimp in a tomato broth), while I went for the sampler of 3 different choices, for which I picked New England clam, scallop and smoked salmon chowders.  We also shared a crab sandwich that was just bursting with fresh crab meat.

We were lured into Piroshky Bakery by the constant lengthy lineup.  We figured that many people could not be wrong.  Inside we found freshly baked Russian goodies including a chocolate hazelnut danish and a smoked salmon pate "piroshky" or stuffed pie which was in the shape of a fish.  We were going to eat it back at the hotel but they were still warm and smelled so good that we only made it as far as across the street before we dug in.  We were also tempted by the beautiful vegetables, especially the garlic spears, which were the size of asparagus.  Unfortunately we had nowhere to cook them. 

Post Alley is an interesting lane way in between some buildings in Pike's Place Market.  The red brick walls, covered with bubblegum of all colours (and presumably flavours),  have grown into a tourist attraction and are almost an art piece after staff gave up trying to clean up the initial deposits of gum.  There are even attempts to create writing or images out of the gum "graffiti".  More traditional graffiti and street art also grace the walls in this alley.

Victor Steinbrueck Park is a lovely green space surrounded by Pike's Place Market on one side and Elliott Bay on the other, named after the architect instrumental in the preservation of the market and Pioneer Square.  Steinbrueck designed the two tall cedar totem poles that decorate the park.  Looking out towards the bay, you can see the mountains, the waterfront area and a giant ferris wheel.  Seems like many cities now have a ferris wheel (Paris, London, Vienna) which makes Mayor Ford's desire for one in Toronto seem less silly.

Pike's Place Market was really fun place to spend one of the few sunny days we had on our trip.  It is easy to see why it gets over 10 million visitors a year.

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