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Haymarket...let's discuss

  • k

I am new to the Boston area and recently made my first trip to Haymarkey last Friday, and to be honest, I can't quite make up my mind about the place. The prices - amazingly cheap; the quality - not so sure. Also, since this was my first trip, I steared clear of the meat and fish, was this a mistake or was I smart to do so? So what's the deal - do you normally get a good bargain here or walk away with a bag of half rotten fruits and vegetables? Any suggestions?

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  1. I relied on it a lot (for produce only) in my leaner days many years ago. I can do as well or better on produce that is much fresher at my local Chinese markets these days. The challenge is to use up what you buy quickly, as it's already old by the time it hits the weekend market. I did this by immediately cooking up and freezing a lot of it in soups and sauces and such.

    1. They are selling the food that won't hold until the fresh stuff gets trucked in Sun night. Buyer beware. They often pull a bait and switch. You're much better off finding a local place where you can find good produce, not always as inexpensive, but better quality. Other than produce, I have purchased cheese and from the guy witrh raw clams. I tend to avoid fish sitting in the sun.

      4 Replies
      1. re: trufflehound

        Bait and switch is an understatement - it is closer to outright fraud
        They put attractive fresh produce in front, building a kind of wall - then they take all the rotten produce and fill your bag from an area that you cannot see - it's not all rotten but is finely perched on the balance between decent and moldy. You are strictly NOT allowed to pick your own produce - it's a total scam as far as I am concerned. You may save money, but you lose at least half your product to spoilage.

        (Ok, I admit I was psychologically damaged when a nice, old man working there tossed F-bombs at me the time I handed back my oranges because they were so gross...)

        I seem to recall that there may be a couple of vendors that let you pick your own, but not going with any regularity, I forget.

        I for one would be happy to high-pressure wash away forever the nostalgia associated with the Haymarket.

        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          To be fair, I've been to many vendors who let me pick out the items I want.

          You definitely do not want to buy anything you don't intend to use that day, or at best the next, however.

          1. re: Alcachofa

            I agree - most of the time I only go to the vendors who let you pick your produce. Other favorites are the fresh herb vendor, the Asian vegetable stand, and the cheese guy.

            1. re: Rubee

              I had no idea that was true in any way...I have had incredibly bad luck finding those who let me pick. I thought they all had the same "no pick" policy.

      2. Do they still not let you examine the produce? I lived in the North End for many years and stopped buying there after the second time I bought a pint of berries and found a mass of mold under the perfect top layer. Cheap food isn't a bargain when it's rotten.

        The small produce markets in the North End - Going Bananas on Salem St. and the one on Parmenter - have great fruit and vegetables..

        1 Reply
        1. re: pasuga

          I think there are a good amount of vendors who do let you pick your own produce now (at least that's been my experience). I used to frequent haymarket every weekend, you definitely have to use things up quickly but if you're on a budget (aka in serious debt due to med school) it's a great option.

        2. 1. Only shop at the ones where you can pick your own or where you can point out what you want.
          2. Most of the stuff is delivered at various times on Thursday, from afternoon on. It then sits all night. Some items, like watermelons, are unaffected by storage but others are really messed up.
          3. If you want to see something, when the market is closing up, the remnants are left around and people swarm through the wreckage to gather the decent stuff. The entire area is then cleaned with a front end loader.

          1. The Haymarket has been there since the beginning of time. Loud, raucus, irreverent it has always been the place where the area Italians, and others shop for produce. Don't forget... in the beginning immigrants bought their vegetables the day they would be cooked, just as they did in the Old Country. They can offer goods for low prices because they buy from the Chelsea produce exchange on Thursdays and Fridays, when shelves have to be cleared for the next week's shipments. Buy the day you want to cook.... look over each piece.... ignore the wise cracks from the vendors...have fun.

            I have memories of a Friday early evening shopping venture with my parents and me in the back seat on the ride home eating all the tiny green grapes that were sweeter than anything I had ever tasted. Boy were they angry.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Gio

              BTW, isn't it safe to say that the Haymarket historically is where EVERYONE bought their vegetables?

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                Yes, it *is* safe to say that. I was referencing my own experience.
                Certainly don't want to offend anyone..

                1. re: Gio

                  Heh - not where I was going at all...Just was under the belief that the Haymarket was *THE* place to get your food in the old days before supermarkets, back when the Common had sheep, the Back Bay was under water and cargo actually ran through the Custom House. :)

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    Actually, I've found it a microcosm of immigrant history in the making. In the time I've shopped there, I've seen the Italian component give way to Russian, Asian and Carribbean, mirroring our city's changing population. The newest immigrant group hit there for food first.

                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                      Has Haymarket been in operationTHAT long? I was only going back to the '50s. Yikes. Of course I did know that the Common was pasture land for cows in the early days....but that was in the 1700's , wasn't it? My how time flies.

                2. re: Gio

                  Haven't been to the market in years.Wa never impressed with the produce, but the prices were always right! I remember going to the Haymarket area in the winter to get our Christmas tree ( well before it was a tourist destination!). There were hundreds and hundreds of trees. We used to go see th lights in the common, get our tree, and than take the tress to the local fire station to be sprayed with fire retardants. I guess that really shows my age!! ( I think it was around 1960 or so)

                3. What Haymarket is today is the opposite of a farmer's market. It is a dumping ground for the wholesellers that couldn't sell the produce during the week. They bring what they have left over and try to get rid of as much as they can for as much as they can get. Whatever's left gets dumped. It's all the stuff that was trucked or flown in to the wholesale exchange during the week, so it's definitely not local, and no longer fresh.

                  That doesn't mean that you can't get good deals on edible fruits and vegs - like others have said, if you are looking to put up something (can or freeze) and you want bushels, you can get great deals. But it's not a very chowhoundish source of vegs - most of us prefer fresh and local whenever we can get it - usually at a real farmer's market.

                  1. Friends and I used to buy boat loads of fruit & veg for huge weekend cookouts. More of the same advice: it's best to use the produce you to get the same day; best to only shop at places that let you pick your items; you'll get better service with honey than vinegar - try to smile and have a good time. Echoing Slim, CMart and Super 88 have similar deals on produce that looks a whole lot better. Buying in season at farmers' markets and farms can also be cost effective.

                    1. I have better luck than most I guess, of course I cook a fraction of the amount. I bought some celery and scallions there a few weeks ago, I think the last weekend of Aug. and the leftovers are still good. Got 1 lb boxes of strawberries for 2 for $1(!), maybe 2 bad ones in both boxes. Also good to get cilantro and basil from those vendors in the middle. And as Rubee said, the cheese guy is cool. He had St. Andre for like $5.99/lb and it was about $12 at Roche Bros. Bought some calamari before and that was fine, never tried the meat guys. Yes, I've come home with some icky peaches and a bunch of them will yell at you (god forbid I don't want 5 lbs of onions or bananas), but I'll make the trip on those (rare) occasions when I need more than my weekly milk, muffins and bananas.

                      1. Haymarket is about 1/4 the price of the supermarket, and about 1/2 the stuff you get will be inedible. You decide if it's worth the time and effort. It is somewhat folkloric in a crazy Boston sort of way, and we used to go often, but it's just not worth the time for us any more.

                        If you live near one (http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?ke...), shop at Market Basket and you'll get quality at good prices and maybe a little of the craziness of the Haymarket thrown in if you go on Sunday afternoon.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: DavisSquare

                          Hey DavisSquare,
                          Can you repost that Market Basket link? It isn't working for me; I'm new to the Boston area and am hoping I can find one close to me!

                        2. I'll chime in to agree with the others - shop early for best selection, shop carefully, and plan to use stuff up fast. I don't go there often anymore since the real farmer's markets started up, but shopped there often enough when I was in my 20s, and I'd still go if I needed a lot of something cheap. I still recall buying a whole flat of cherries and making the most wonderful jam.

                          A couple of strategic suggestions - bring plenty of $1 bills and don't carry your full wallet contents. The one time in my entire life that I've been pickpocketed, I was pinned in the midst of the crowd at Haymarket. It was an unforgettable and very unpleasant experience!

                          1. I wouldn't go there for things that are great when they're great and awful when they're not, like peaches or strawberries. Nor for anything highly perishable. I used to have pretty good luck with raspberries and blackberries that I was planning to eat for lunch that very day. It's also good if you need a whole lot of lemons or limes. It's hard to ruin those, and they're 1/4 or 1/5 the price you'd pay elsewhere. Still, I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for it unless I was broke. I used to work near there but haven't been since I changed jobs.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                              Who don't want to save some bucks? But taking the chance of getting yelled at, I would rather pay more to buy at somewhere else.

                              I will not go to Haymarket intentionally. Only when I pass by, I will get a pack of scallion.

                            2. My friend will stop by when she has a dinner party that night so she can buy a larger supply of what she needs, but she only goes to select stalls that allow you to choose your own product. I've been with her on occasion, but I personally don't shop there.

                              My parents use to frequent this place years ago, and were subjected to so many racist verbal assaults from so many of the vendors when they tried to pick their own products, that I refuse to shop there on principle. I'm sure there are some nice vendors too, but it so soured the experience for me. Not worth it to save a few dollars.

                              1. Being from the midwest, the first and only time I went to Haymarket I was shocked at the rudeness of the vendors. It was the end of the day and one elderly fellow asked a vendor if he'd sell a box of eggplant for a certain price. The vendor replied, "I'll f-ing throw them in the street before I sell them for that." Since then, whenever my husband and I are in a situation where a person's request seems unreasonable, we look at each other and say "I'll f-ing throw them in the street . . . "