The must-do mar­ket

No trip to San Fran­cisco is com­plete with­out a for­age at the old Ferry Ter­mi­nal

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - CHRISTINE MCCABE

IN­SIDE the small, brown card­board box lies a twist of waxed pa­per thick as parch­ment, and within, placed care­fully as if they were rare jewels, are four hand­made j el­lies flavoured with pas­sion­fruit and vanilla.

This mod­est box, and sev­eral more like it, sit cheek by well-fed jowl on the wind­blown counter next to a scotch egg of sorts, golden yolk ooz­ing from the cen­tre of a savoury muf­fin. Meet the Eas­ton’s break­fast sausage soft-cooked egg savoury cake.

They are the work of the Tell Tale Pre­serve Com­pany, a new patis­serie where the quaint Steam­punk pack­ag­ing is as de­light­ful as the edgy fare: al­mond and salted caramel brown­ies, souf­fle cook­ies, vanilla-smoked salt ket­tle corn and, yes, plain old (but very good) crois­sants.

The Tell Tale team tips up ev­ery week to one of my favourite San Fran­cisco haunts, the old Ferry Ter­mi­nal on The Em­bar­cadero (at the foot of Mar­ket Street), a lov­ingly re­stored his­toric precinct that these days houses restau­rants and high-end food stores, and three days a week hosts one of Cal­i­for­nia’s best farm­ers’ mar­kets.

Op­er­at­ing Tues­days, Thurs­days and Satur­days, the Ferry Plaza Farm­ers’ Mar­ket is run by the not-for-profit Cen­tre for Ur­ban Ed­u­ca­tion about Sus­tain­able Agri­cul­ture (CUESA) and is highly re­garded by lo­cal chefs for the qual­ity and va­ri­ety of its pro­duce. (Or­ganic farm­ers are hailed a bit like rock stars in this foodob­sessed city and some pro­duc­ers travel more than 320km to flaunt their wares to an ador­ing pub­lic.)

The Satur­day mar­ket can at­tract thou­sands of food­ies to stalls lin­ing the front of the Ferry Build­ing and sprawl­ing across the rear plaza over­look­ing the bay. Dur­ing the week the mar­ket is smaller but no less var­ied.

On this chilly, late spring Tues­day, with the wind whip­ping be­neath the Bay Bridge and the city’s fer­ries rock­ing at their moor­ings, I’m stok­ing my in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine with the afore­men­tioned Eas­ton’s savoury cake, washed down with a pip­ing-hot cof­fee big enough to drown in.

All about me is the fe­cund prom­ise of early sum­mer: tubs of blue­ber­ries and boxes of new sea­son’s cher­ries; dim­pled or­ganic clemen­tines; and fat radishes in patriotic shades of red, white and an al­most-blue pur­ple. There are baby ar­ti­chokes, baby parsnips and eerie lu­nar-white car­rots.

Next door are stacked bunches of plump pur­ple as­para­gus, peas in the pod, shiny green (or salad) onions, and piles and piles of gar­lic so good look­ing, I’m tempted to whip out my easel and rush off a quick still-life (but make do with an iPhone snap in­stead). The plump heir­loom toma­toes are par­tic­u­larly fetch­ing, blushed bur­gundy and tan­ger­ine or tiger­striped yel­low-green.

There are loads of chill­ies, of course, and crates of Nopales (cac­tus pads). These are de­li­cious in a salad or boiled or grilled and added to salsa or scram­bled eggs.

San Fran­cis­can food­ies re­ally get the pad­dock-to-plate thing ( Alice Waters is cred­ited with pi­o­neer­ing the con­cept in the US at her Berke­ley restau­rant Chez Panisse 40 years ago), and in many restau­rants the prove­nance of ev­ery last in­gre­di­ent is listed on menus that read more like cook­books. On the farm­ers’ mar­ket web­site you get the low­down on the grow­ers: their farms’ lo­ca­tion and his­tory, wa­ter use, pest man­age­ment and weed con­trol.

The Ferry Plaza Farm­ers’ Mar­ket had its ge­n­e­sis in a one-off har­vest mar­ket, when farm­ers and lo­cal restau­rants set up shop in 1992 in the mid­dle of The Em­bar­cadero road­way. The fol­low­ing year a weekly mar­ket was es­tab­lished, and in 2003, once the his­toric Ferry Build­ing’s ren­o­va­tion had been com­pleted, the mar­ket found a per­ma­nent home.

Un­der the aus­pices of CUESA the mar­ket aims to ed­u­cate as well as feed its shop­pers, and hosts a reg­u­lar sched­ule of cook­ing demon­stra­tions and other events. Satur­day is the main game, but if you’d rather avoid the hun­gry hordes, Tues­days and Thurs­days are far less crowded, al­low­ing busi­ness folk from the nearby fi­nan­cial district to drop by for lunch on the run: ra­men, ta­males and all-beef hot dogs.

In­side the soar­ing Ferry Build­ing, a bevy of per­ma­nent spe­cial­ity food stores line the im­pres­sively re­stored cen­tral nave. Opened in 1898 and vis­i­ble from far and wide cour­tesy of the 75m clock tower mod­elled af­ter the 12th-cen­tury bell­tower of Spain’s Seville Cathe­dral, the ferry ter­mi­nal was a bustling com­muter hub un­til the 1930s, be­fore the open­ing of the Bay and Golden Gate bridges.

These days it’s just as busy, but most folk are here to eat. The res­i­dent provi­dores span the sunny Cal­i­for­nian gamut from cow­girl cheese­mak­ers to spe­cial­ist mush­room re­tail­ers stock­ing fan­tas­ti­cal fungi, from knob­bly lion’s manes to weird yel­low­foot.

I could spend hours in this build­ing ex­plor­ing the re­ally good kitchen shop (Sur La Ta­ble) and the even bet­ter book­shop (Book Pas­sage), or pick­ing through the rather princessy (but very lovely) gar­den­ing stores whose clients are likely to tend lit­tle more than a pot or two of arugula on the bal­cony of their Nob Hill apart­ments.

Ev­ery time we’re here, hol­i­day­ing en famille, we buy the same things: a crusty or­ganic loaf from the Acme Bread Com­pany (served at Chez Panisse, where the bak­ery’s founder, Steven Sullivan, worked in the 70s); a slab of hand­made or­ganic cheese from the Cow­girl Cream­ery; and half a dozen dainty pas­tries from the pretty-in-pink Mi­ette.

If there’s time we might stop for a glass of bub­bly and a dozen oys­ters from the Hog Is­land Oys­ter Bar (the briny mol­luscs are farmed at To­ma­les Bay, north of the city on the rav­ish­ing coast hugged by the old High­way 1).

Far West Fungi is al­ways on our list, given its won­der­ful stash of wild and cul­ti­vated mush­rooms from Cal­i­for­nia and across the world. To­day there’s a box of deep green fid­dle­head ferns, a spring spe­cial­ity in the US. These tightly curled fronds of edible ferns are said to taste like a cross be­tween as­para­gus and okra, but my teenage sons de­cide the nearby chocolate store looks more promis­ing (sin­gle ori­gin bars, of course).

Then we stow all our pur­chases in a hemp shop­ping bag (hand­stitched by su­per­an­nu­ated hip­pies, I ven­ture) and head to Slanted Door for a late lunch. With floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows af­ford­ing lovely bay views, the al­ways-crammed Slanted Door serves ex­cel­lent mod­ern Viet­namese. Owner, ex­ec­u­tive chef and San Fran­cisco food iden­tity Charles Phan uses the best lo­cal in­gre­di­ents, or­ganic where pos­si­ble, in keep­ing with the pad­dock-to-plate ethos of this very stylish, very Cal­i­for­nian food precinct. FOOD DE­TEC­TIVE’S NEW HOME IS IN THE WEEK­END A PLUS SEC­TION, IN­SIDE YOUR PROP­ERTY LIFT-OUT

LONELY PLANET IM­AGES/SAB­RINA DALBESIO

The ren­o­vated Ferry Ter­mi­nal houses restau­rants and high-end food stores, and the Ferry Plaza Farm­ers’ Mar­ket is held three days a week

The Eas­ton’s break­fast sausage soft-cooked egg savoury cake, left, and bunches of fresh gar­lic

PIC­TURES: CHRISTINE MCCABE

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