Lunchtime at Albert Cuyp Markt.

Oh, there’s still so much I want to tell you all about our trip last month, and there’s still so much I want to tell you about other things (I know you don’t think I’ve forgotten to keep you posted about my CSAdventures) but somehow time has gotten away from me.  Bear with me while I figure it all out, and in the meantime, enjoy this little slideshow of photos I took at the Albert Cuyp Markt in Amsterdam.  (Click on the legs.)

Albert Cuyp Markt, 8

Unlike London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon, the Albert Cuyp Markt is an actual street market; the vendors set up and break down their carts, trucks and booths each morning and night.  Don’t worry though — the street is closed to automotive traffic during market hours (Monday through Saturday from eight in the morning until six at night).

Also unlike Borough Market and Jean-Talon, the markt offers products ranging beyond produce, including clothing, furniture and even electronics — which reminded me more of some of the markets I’ve visited in Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore.  There’s still a lot of food to sample, buy and smell, however.  My favorite was Amsterdam’s infamous raw herring sandwich; fatty, sweet and rich, I wish I had one in my hand right now.  It was that good.

What’s amazing about this market is that it’s in the center of a picturesque part of Amsterdam known as the Pijp, whose little pockets of ethnic communities definitely flavor the markets’ stalls.  Crave a Surinamese sweet?  Need a tagine?  The markt has everything you need, and frites to boot, so if you plan to visit, I highly recommend doing what Keith and I did: skip breakfast.

Albert Cuyp Markt
Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Homesick, Sort Of.

I’m feeling homesick again, except I’m nostalgic not for where I’m from but rather for where I could be.

When we moved to this apartment about two years ago, one of the selling points aside from the ability to remodel the kitchen was the proximity to a massive supermarket.  For someone accustomed to hauling groceries home during a fifteen-minute walk, this was a big deal.  The thing is, the novelty has worn well off now, especially as I make a point, when I travel, to visit markets like London’s Borough Market and Montréal’s Marché Jean-Talon.  Each time I do drop in to such a market, my excitement is smothered a bit by a combination of my longing and my jealousy.

How wonderful would it be to instead of having a local grocery store to have a local market?  To be able to form a relationship with my chard-grower, to become friends with my sorrel-supplier, to pal around with my berry-picker…  It sounds awesome, doesn’t it, to have a connection not only with our food, but also the people who coax them out of the earth?  The closest I can come at this point is taking part yet again in the Food Project‘s CSA program this year.  We’ll start getting produce boxes in a few weeks’ time — I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, here’s a link to 2008’s food.

Late Lunch at Le Petit Alep.

After we had entertained ourselves at Marché Jean-Talon, we stopped by Le Petit Alep for a late lunch and a drink.  The café is located parallel to the market and is attached to a proper restaurant; since we were just looking for a quick bite or two to satisfy us until dinner, il était parfait.

Since the day had been both warm and sunny, and because Boston was not, we decided to sit outside on the plank-board patio rather than at one of the tables abutting the stone walls inside the dimly-lit café.  There, we studied the listing of Syrian, Armenian and Middle Eastern offerings.  Of the four of us, only Keith has any French; in spite of that, I found myself easily making my way around the menu.  After all, while the menu wasn’t printed in English, the alphabet was the same, and most of the dishes were spelled phonetically (something I always find amusing).

Joann, Keith and Melissa all decided to have an Arak (an anise-flavored drink similar to pastis), but since I’ve never been fond of the flavor, I went in a non-alcoholic direction altogether with a fantastically-colored drink.  Made of blended orange and mango juices whirled with mint, it was utterly refreshing ($4.75 CAD).  At times I find mint to be paralyzingly strong; like the mushroom, a leaf or two of mint can overwhelm other flavors and all but smother them into nothingness.  My beverage was an example of mint used well, since each component brought out the best in both itself and the other ingredients.

The four of us were specifically in search of something light, since we had made late-night  dinner reservations, so that was the driving force behind us sharing the végétarienne platter ($17.00 CAD).  Two people could easily make a meal out of the mahummara (sweet pepper and walnut spread), hummos, tabouleh, muttabal (baba ghanoush), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), boereg and mejadara — four would be hard-pressed.  We also passed around tiny plates of moussaka, lebneh drizzled with olive oil, more hummos ($3.50 CAD each) and even more bread.  I’m not ashamed to say that sent back to the kitchen immaculate white dishes practically licked clean.  You would have too.

As someone raised on this fare and living away from home, this was probably the most comforting meal I’ve had in ages.  Isn’t it odd, how food nourishes us not only physically as nutrition and as sustenance, but also emotionally?  With each bite, I couldn’t help but think of my Syrian-born Armenian father and his young adulthood in Beirut, and of my Filipina mother, who learned to cook a foreign culture’s food for her family.  I remembered how my paternal grandfather used to take me to buy apricots from a street vendor in LA when I was a small child, and how I saw his grave for the first time this spring.  I thought of my maternal grandfather, a great lover of food rivaling only my brother for hummos consumption, who died this past May on a trip to the States.

The food at Le Petit Alep may seem unique or exotic to those weaned on other cuisines, but to me it was as familiar as the carousel-print navy flannel sheets I slept on through (I’ll admit it) high school and the glossy black and white piano keys I banged tunelessly for seven years.  Like them, they are things I know I’ll find in my parents’ house, and they will always bring me home.  Even when I’m in Canada.

Le Petit Alep
191 Rue Jean-Talon Est
Montréal, QC H2R

Le Petit Alep on Urbanspoon

An Afternoon at Marché Jean-Talon.

We spent a large portion of Saturday’s late afternoon roaming around Montréal’s outdoor market, Jean-Talon.  Located near Little Italy, it’s unbelievably open all year — even in the city’s frosty winters.  At that point, walls are put up enclosing the hundreds of stalls set up underneath an open-air ceiling.

In all honesty, I am the worst person to visit a market with, especially one like Jean-Talon; I tend to wander off.  I’m too easily distracted by cheesemongers hawking fresh chèvre, the lusty aromas drifting out of boulangeries and the sheer beauty of multicolored cauliflowers backlit by the setting sun.  What fascinates me about markets such as these is more than just what’s for sale, though; I’m interested in the people buying it all.  At Jean-Talon, parents with strollers and tethered dogs walked alongside men and women who looked as though they had been shopping at the market every day for the past forty years.  There were throngs of young people fondling leeks and droves of kids ogling olive oil.  Here, the market is literally a destination for all generations.

Click on the picture for a short slideshow of some of Jean-Talon’s wares.

Marché Jean-Talon
7070 rue Henri-Julien
Montréal, QC H2S 3A3