Detroit’s Eastern Market: Now We’re Talkin’!

I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. McDoc and I have done lots of fun things since we got here just over a month ago, like 8 Days in June, an outdoor Detroit Symphony concert plus fireworks at the Henry Ford on July 3 (our monthaversary!) various outings with his fellow interns, and an unsuccessful trip to Ann Arbor (did you know that outdoor plays can get sold out? The “Great Outdoors” indeed!) But I had gotten a little burned out after so much running around, and McDoc’s schedule started to ramp up, and then the boxes, dear God the boxes, they won’t leave me alone, make them go away aaagghhh!!! Another trip to IKEA is in order, to get more bookcases and other furniture-type items to hold all of our worthless crap precious belongings, but I dread that somewhat because it’s about a 40-min. drive from here, and wending my way through the fun-house maze that is IKEA tends to leave me over-stimulated and exhausted. And as if that’s not bad enough, last time we went we found the Perfect Item That We Really Wanted, but when we got down to the self-service bin thingy, it was out of stock. I was crushed. Shopping online isn’t the answer, because a) you can’t buy certain items online and 2) they don’t have everything on the website that they actually sell. You have to report to their human hamster tube of unhappiness and shop til you drop. Such is the tragic ennui of our modern life.

I was such a mopey dope last night that McDoc prescribed an outing for me, and I had just the thing in mind: since he had to be at work at 7 a.m. this morning, it was perfect timing for me to head over to Detroit’s Eastern Market district after I dropped him off, just in time for the start of the Saturday farmer’s market. Now, if you know me well, you know that I am Not A Morning Person. But it was pretty neat to arrive just as the market was coming to life. (For one thing, I had my pick of parking spaces, something that never fails to make my heart glad.) The sun wasn’t yet up over the tall buildings (I was nearly blinded as I drove east to get there), so it was still very cool as the vendors set up their stalls.

Read more, it’s very yummy!

You just have to see this place to believe it. It’s about a 20-square-block area, and there are dozens of wholesale and specialty food retailers that are open to the public all week long. Add to that the farmer’s market on Saturday, and you have what must be the world’s largest grocery store. When McDoc and I were scoping out places to live in Detroit, we considered doing a loft-type thing in the downtown area, which would have been very hip and cutting-edge. We were put off by two things: the scarcity of safe, free parking so that we could have friends over, and the nearly complete absence of decent grocery stores. It seems the major grocery chains fled to the suburbs along with the white people 40 years ago. But if I’d known about this culinary cornucopia, I wouldn’t have worried! (I’d still need to be convinced about parking, though.)

I popped in to the Welcome Center, just to be as cheesy as possible, and a very hipster yet friendly dude gave me the inside scoop. After repeatedly expressing his condolences to me on having moved to Michigan from Southern California (we get that a lot here), he showed me on the map where the best blocks were for vegetarian-oriented shopping (the market also sells all manner of specialty animal items for those who wish to harm their karma more efficiently). He told me to visit one stall in particular, owned by an Asian family and stocked with beautiful veggie goodness. I also learned how food-stamp recipients can swipe their cards in exchange for tokens that many of the vendors accept, which is pretty cool — farm-fresh produce ain’t just for yuppies!

Armed with info, I strode confidently into the “sheds,” as they call them — semi-enclosed spaces where the vendors set up shop. Still shivering in my cardigan at 7:30 a.m., I instantly wondered what it would be like to shop here in the winter. I think I will simply have to encase myself in fiberglass insulation come November. I’ll get a little PVC tube to breathe through. McDoc will understand.

I chatted with one of the vendors, and found out that he knows one of the residents in McDoc’s program — crazy! They had been neighbors in — guess what — a loft building a few blocks away! And he gave me a lead for loft rentals in the area. Intriguing, very intriguing… it would be pretty wild if McDoc could walk to work!

Moving on, I found the Asian family’s stall that the Welcome Guy told me about. I bought some baby bok choy and — be still my heart — squash blossoms! You can’t buy squash blossoms in a regular grocery store because they spoil so fast. The farmer’s market near my old place in San Diego had a vendor who sold squash blossom quesadillas in season — yummy! I plan to make 2 or 3 of the recipes I found here. Woo hoo!

I also visited a store that, Welcome Guy told me, stocks any kind of cheese you can name. They don’t have everything on display, but they have it if you ask for it. And I browsed another store specializing in spices — I was happy to find that they carry exotic things like asafetida and curry leaves which I need for my Indian cooking aspirations, though they didn’t have any in stock today. 🙁

There was even more to do in Detroit today… the Concert of Colors is going on down at Orchestra Hall, there’s a street fair down in the hood, and a jazz festival up in swankytown. But I had to bring the veggies home, and there’s still this house to deal with…

McDoc is saving lives in the ER as we speak, and he has the crazy idea that when I pick him up at the end of his shift, we should head straight to IKEA, and proceed from there to home organization nirvana. But I have a feeling I can entice him home with promises of squash blossoms and beer. We’ll see! 😛

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