January 23, 2007

Ferry Building Marketplace

I am not a natural-born market enthusiast. Up until about 11 years ago, a market to me was a fly-infested, noisy place reeking of fish guts and splattered in blood and gore, a giant petri dish of bacteria. In a word, markets to me then were disgusting. I didn't know any better, obviously. But that all changed when my sister took me to the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver, BC. From the moment I stepped foot into that magical place, I was smitten and the love affair began.

I like to visit local markets when I travel to new places because it gives me a sense of what the locals are like on an ordinary day, I like to see what unique produce or specialty items can be found there. You will be hard pressed to find a more vibrant and colorful spot in town.

Much has been written about the renovation of the SF Ferry Building Marketplace and it's rebirth as the premier destination for food lovers in the Bay Area that this was the only thing I listed as a must on my otherwise free and flexible schedule for SF. I had even added the cookbook inspired by the markets here to my rapidly expanding Amazon wishlist.

Ideally, I would have gone early on a Saturday morning when the weekend outdoor market was still bustling with activity but we were delayed and by the time we arrived, they were gone. We also, intended to dine at the Slanted Door but even that fell through because it was packed with a waiting list the size of China. My spirits were not dampened for long though as I knew there was still a whole building of treasures to explore.

The Ferry Building which is located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street was built in 1898 as a transit terminal long before the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. The beautiful clock tower has come to define the city's waterfront and is an important landmark for tourists and locals alike. It's like a big X that marks the spot as a food lover's nirvana.

Saturday afternoon inside the marketplace

Top row: Kingdom of Herbs, chocolate sauces
Bottom row: Far West Fungi, Tsar Nicoulai Caviar

Inside the building is an upscale gourmet marketplace, cozy cafes and trendy restaurants. Among the many merchants you will find here are the Imperial Tea Court - an elegant Chinese tea room; Acme Bread Company - artisan bread baked fresh everyday with organic flour; Far West Fungi - a good resource for wild and exotic mushrooms; the Village Market with its array of fine wines and specialty food items and Cowgirl Creamery - incredible artisan cheese including the famous Mt. Tam cheese.

decadent Scharfen Berger chocolates

stacks of wonderfully stinky Cowgirl Creamery artisan cheese

LOVE this store!
Surely all that browsing and shopping will get you hungry, and this is truly a delightful place to be hungry! We opted for a spot in the outdoor patio of Market Bar and had a seafood platter and various appetizers. I didn't see the bill because I wasn't allowed to pay but I do believe it was quite pricey. Everything on the platter was fresh, juicy and so tasty!

The seafood platter from Market Bar

The big mama of pumpkins! Look at the size of that thing!

At the rear of the building is a plaza with an expansive view of the Bay and the Bay Bridge. It's an ideal place to take your sandwich from Mastrelli's, your latte from Peet's or that Valrhona Chocolate gelato from Ciao Bella and just sit on the park bench listening to the sea gulls as you watch the boats go by.


joey said...

Oh my! What a treasure trove! Acme Bread, Cowgirl Creamery (that cheese we liked from the wine & cheese!), Scharfen Berger...and that mushroom place! I am closing my eye now and trying to live vicariously through your past! :)

briliantdonkey said...

Looks like quite the place. Interesting that at any given time there are people there just going about their day by day lives. Meanwhile, someone else is there visiting this place 'they just had to see'.

Baking Soda said...

Ooooh sweet memories! I am so with you on marketplaces. Love them to bits. I insist on visit market wherever I go, luckily my family knows me well enough ;)
It's been quite a while since we visited SF and Vancouver but reading your post brings back memories. To know that I've been there and not to have visited Sur la Table! Okay, it was in my pre foodie days, I was more or less in denial but still....

Mila Tan said...

The Ferry market is what I'd love to see in Manila (can you imagine? we'd never get to work! We'll end up paupers from buying all the stuff.), and a wonderful example of how to reinvigorate an area/building that was planned for demolition. I remember seeing the building 3 years ago when the insides hadn't been fully packed with stores and it was exciting to see it last year full of life.

Senor Enrique said...

Awesome! Are you on some grand global tour or something? Wish I were with you :)

christine said...

Jo, it was really a dream of a place! There's a lot more I didn't mention but if you click on the link to the Ferry Building's website you'll see a list there. Now I see what all the fuss is about! :)

Hi BD, that's so true. Very interesting perspective which didn't cross my mind. :)

Hi Karen! Glad I helped to bring up some sweet memories for you. I know how you feel though, there are places I regret not exploring further in my "pre-foodie" days as well, especially in Spain and Italy. But it only gives me reason to come back someday. So maybe you can play around with the idea of going back to the US. :)

christine said...

Great idea, Mila! And one which I believe isn't too far-fetched. I mean, at least we finally have nice farmers markets in town right?

Eric, don't I wish! But no, this is a series of backlog posts about my trip last Oct. I'm almost done! Just 1 more (I think) and I can move on hehe. I didn't realize it would take me this long to document it, but I didn't factor in the craziness of the holiday rush and "life" in general. :) Thanks for dropping by!

The Knittymommy said...

OMG! The seafood platter just made me want to get on a plane and get to the market. Occassionally, on an extremely special date, G and I indulge ourselves in such decandence.

Yours and Joey's posts of the markets are inspiring me to go out and visit similar ones around the area. I'm going to do my homework and see where I can find some here. Hmmmm. I'm excited!

christine said...

KM, doesn't that seafood platter just look fantastic?! It was extremely fresh too. I'm so sure you have great markets there, I'll see if I can find some food blogs in your area for you. I'm sure the owners of these blogs can help you find them. Then tell us all about it ok? :)

The Knittymommy said...

Thanks Nens! That would be great! Then we can go explore them together when you have a chance to visit us in one of your next visits to the US!