Adventurous Eating: Food Markets & Street Fairs
This week I announced a giveaway offering a $50 bison meat sampler to one lucky MKES reader. To enter, I asked readers to share one of the most unusual things they’ve ever eaten–or would like to eat. From frog legs to chicken feet, readers have had their fill of interesting bites.
Adults are trying out new foods, but what about kids? Sure, kids are notorious for being picky eaters, but they’re also born explorers. If you can find ways to make food an adventure, well, they’ll have to give a nibble here and there–and all of a sudden you’ve got ‘em hooked on something new.
Today Mr. Squid and I ventured to Cleveland’s West Side Market with our crew. If you ever get within driving distance of the city, I can’t recommend a trip to the market enough. On Saturdays the market is packed with diehard shoppers (you’ll pick ‘em out immediately, they carry wicker baskets for their finds), tourists (hefty cameras in hand) and a diverse cross section of people all looking for something tasty.
East Side Market is one the largest indoor/outdoor markets in the U.S. and has its beginnings in the 1840s. The building feels–and looks–like New York City’s Grand Central station, housing 100 vendor booths often run by families who’ve been making their own sausages, cheeses, cookies, crepes and more for centuries. The first time I went to the market I expected the booths to be shabby, the people to be unfriendly–or worse, overly aggressive, and the food to be so-so at best. I mean, it’s a big indoor market, how cool could it be? Very.
The market reminds me of similar set-ups I’ve visited cities outside the U.S., like Mexico City and Budapest. But this time all the sellers at least were speaking a language I could understand. And unlike those markets no one was yelling and trying to get my business, but instead the booths are staffed by friendly, unobtrusive folks who pride themselves on selling quality food (I’m entirely biased because as I’m writing I’m also digesting a meal of sun-dried tomato gnocchi bathed in a lobster creme sauce–thank you, Ohio City Pasta!). Sure, you’ll be bumping elbows with people as you try to move and at some point someone with a stroller may run over your foot, but that’s all part of the experience.
We started our food fest at Frank’s. It’s a bratwurst stand that sells, well, brats–that’s it. And yet the line for Frank’s is constantly around 5 to 10 people deep. I’m no fan of brats, but Frank’s taste like a good pork chop on a bun, crisped skin holding in big chunks of steak-like meat. Mr. Squid, who usually tops his brats with sauerkraut, deli mustard, mustard, ketchup and anything else that’s offered gives Frank’s brats a particular reverence–he eats them plain to savor every bite. We grabbed a bag of brats and headed to the outdoor square across the street. On Saturdays, there’s often a band playing either inside or outside to entertain shoppers. Today a Rastafarian group played in the square as shoppers lingered to listen, some even dancing right there next to the band. My kids devoured the experience–sampling homemade brats while swaying to reggae.
With happy tummies and tingling tastebuds, my kids were begging to head back into the market to try out more. We let our kids lead the way and point out what they’d like to try–pecan rolls, Amish bacon and handmade pasta made it into our cooler but we also showed them to some of our favorites. Mr. Squid has staked out a booth that sells jerky that’s been featured on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate. My 9 year-old pointed out to her dad that she didn’t like jerky. “But you’ve never had this kind of jerky,” he answered. With the music going, the crowds mingling and the sales lady anxiously waiting for my daughter to give it a go, my middle child took a shy nibble. Then a full bite.
“This is good,” she smiled. We kept loading up on all sorts of foods for our kids to try out.
While not everything we sampled today became an instant hit with my crew, I consider the day a complete success (and not just because my freezer is full of meals in the making for the next week). The experience reminded my kids that food is an adventure–one worth trying out.