Learning to Love the Haymarket
Two years ago I and my lovely DC became empty-nesters and moved from Andover to downtown. I have made some progress in coming to understand the opportunity that is the Haymarket, want to share as well as get your impressions.
1. If you do not care what you spend on produce, do not go to the Haymarket. If you can buy everything at Whole Foods or Wilson’s without flinching, do not subject yourself. I flinch.
2. The value of the Haymarket increases exponentially with how easily you access it. Needing to drive e.g. is probably a showstopper, but people do it. I am fortunate enough to walk past it on Saturday morning pilgrimage to the North End.
3. You can never count on any specific produce being available at the Haymarket. You need to go with the attitude that you will cook/eat what you buy rather than you are going to buy things you have already selected to cook. I like this, forces a sort of ‘Iron Chef’ thing every week.
4. Much of the produce at the Haymarket is on its way to a dumpster which is why it is at the Haymarket to begin with. If you want consistently, brilliantly fresh produce see number 1.
5. There are exceptions to number 4 and herein lies the opportunity. Each week there are generally several extraordinary values. E.g. 4 lb bags of baby spinach for $1. Passable asparagus for $1 a bunch. Really nice naval oranges (this past weekend), 6/$1. At these prices the produce is essentially free … and here is what is, for me, special about the Haymarket. What do you do with free asparagus? (hint: you buy a lot of it, blanch it, puree it, and fill up your freezer. Yes, you will get sick of asparagus soup but that takes a long time). Same with berries and fruit for smoothies (cut up and freeze).
6. The Cheese Guy: Probably deserves (and I am sure has) his own post. Again, the key is to not compare him to a regular cheese store. Use him in *addition*, not instead of. He has many cuts of cheese at undetermined weights. They are $3 for 1, $5 for 2, $7 for 3 … sometimes, like last week he will sell a last (after 3) piece for $1, not always, you need to discuss. Some weeks all of the cheese is crap. Others there can be real bargains. Last weekend very good feta and my favorite – Weinbergkse Vignotte. Just weighed a piece, exactly 7 oz., if you assume it was a $2 piece that’s $4.57/lb. which is a great value.
7. Haymarket Pizza: Cheap! Not bad, not great.
8. Clam Guy: 3 freshly chucked cherrystones for $2. Awesome with the qualification that I am frequently there early in the morning, raw clams are a weird breakfast. If it was later in the day and there was a ‘beer guy’ next door we’d be onto something.
9. Dealing with the vendors.: Do not ask them to make change if you can avoid it. Never ask them to deal with coins, remember the produce is essentially free, round up. They are a lively bunch, on your first visits watch others; you will get a feel for the rhythm.
Any other Haymarket fans out there? What has been your experience? Any tips?
Carty - great post. Agreed on all counts.
On Haymarket Pizza, just another reminder (and thanks) to the hound who posted about the fact that they sell their dough for $1. I have not ordered out pizza in months as a result. I think the dough may be one of the best in Boston - strong yeasty flavor that's a little sweet actually - when used the same day, it can be rolled very thinly and will crust up perfectly.
I agree too. I think the people in the middle with cilantro, scallions, etc. are very dependable. If you ask nicely after looking in your bag and seeing some crappy pieces, most of them are okay with switching. Just don't handle the merch in advance. Those boxes of raspberries and blackberries for $1 can't be beat (and you usually can pick those up to check for fuzziness which doesn't happen *too* often). There are a couple real assholes that I know to avoid. I love that cheese guy, wicked nice. I almost always find what I'm looking for (random stuff like berries, dill, celery) but I don't go all that often.
I don't shop at Haymarket often any more, though in my younger days I did quite a bit. I still remember getting an amazing deal on a flat of cherries about 25 years ago, bringing them home and spending forever pitting them, and making a huge batch of cherry jam. And only this past Saturday Barmy and I were eying a very good-looking sack of onions that a couple were toting away.
There are several reasons I don't shop there as much anymore. I'm more willing to spend more money on fresher produce, and in season I'd far rather shop the farmer's markets for locally grown goods. But the biggest reason is that I had the unpleasant experience of being trapped in a crowd so dense that I couldn't move and having my pocket picked. That's made me quite paranoid in any kind of dense crowd and really took the fun out of joining the Haymarket scrum.
I'll agree with the advice about not asking vendors to make change if you can avoid it. The best thing is to just go with a big wad of $1 bills.
A long while ago when I lived in the North End I used to shop there regularly.
You neglect to mention two the key rules of Hay Market, one is a bit of a secret:
- You can not pick the produce yourself! If you try you risk getting yelled at or worse!
- After you purchase, take a step back, and sort through the bag. If they really gave you junk, you have the right to return the bag and get your money back. After a while you will learn who sells junk and who does not. And some of the borderline vendors will start to recognize you and hesitate to stick junk into your bag knowing they will just get it back. It takes real bravery to return a bag to those tough colorful folks, and they will not be happy, but they will generally not object. It is the secret law of Haymarket they get to pick 'em, but if you are not pleased you can return them.
Many of the vendors now let you pick your own. The old line vendors still fill your bag from the back so you don't know what you're getting. I only shop at the ones which let you pick, mostly the Asian and Latino vendors.
If you park in the Parcel 7 Garage next door and buy a slice of pizza at Haymarket Pizza ($1.25 for cheese), you get validated so it's $1 for 2 hours, $3 for 3 hours. This is a perk from the Big Dig.