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Where Y'Eat: Fresh Tastes For An Historic Market

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Ian McNulty
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More than 20 vendors convene for the new farmers market at the French Market each Wednesday.

A new market-within-a-market seems right in step with the renewed appreciation for locally harvested or handmade food and the burgeoning cottage industry producing it all.

Head down to the French Market early on a Wednesday afternoon these days and you can watch as about two dozen vendors set up booths for a new weekly edition of the Crescent City Farmers Market. These vendors come from all across the region, as reflected by what they’re bringing to market these days.

There are crabs and catfish from Des Allemands, the fishing village famous for these catches. There’s sugar from the Acadiana cane fields south of Lafayette, green, early-season citrus from Plaquemines Parish, pasture-raised chicken from the north shore and small-batch pastries, breads and pasta from grassroots food entrepreneurs in the city. They’re bringing a lot to the table, and for those who still remember when the French Market was a destination for groceries and an epicenter of the region’s food culture, they may also bring a strong dose of nostalgia too.

But what’s impressive about this new farmers market at the French Market, and what’s so promising about it for those of us who enjoy vibrant public market places, is that for all the history at work here, this is no throwback effort. 

Instead, the market-within-a-market plan seems right in step with the renewed appreciation for locally harvested or handmade food and the burgeoning cottage industry producing it all. That’s evident around New Orleans today, and it’s a national interest more travelers pursue when they explore the city, including its historic public market.

I suspect that for a lot of New Orleanians the French Market exists more as a memory than a destination, like some gauzy reproduction of the Café du Monde coffee stand printed on a mug or an apron. That was about the impression I had until I started visiting regularly as the new momentum began building here. Some people are still surprised to find all the walk-up, open air cafés and diner-style food counters installed a few years ago, and now the addition of the Wednesday afternoon farmers market ties a new, or maybe renewed, scene together. With the market in full swing, you see tourists snapping photos, local chefs prowling the stands in their restaurant uniforms and locals brandishing shopping baskets bulging with produce. 

More of the farmers market vendors will ship their fresh foods home for visitors, and for instant tastes of the market place there are jalapeno cornbread loaves, soft, salt-studded pretzels, little portions of hummus and lentil cakes, single-serving pies, bean and cheese tamales for a buck apiece, bread pudding in grab-and-cup cups, bagels, fresh juices.

This could happen anywhere, and in a way it does — as the Crescent City Farmers Market hosts three other markets in parking lots downtown, Uptown, and Mid-City. But in this case, on Wednesdays from 2-6 p.m., it's happening under the iron arches of the historic French Market. Right next to the new vegetable stalls, one daily market vendor works an open-air oyster bar, fresh fruit daiquiris whirl away at a nearby counter, another daily vendor pours wine and makes cheese plates, there’s a booth just for pralines, and of course coffee and beignets from Café du Monde still wait at one end of the long marketplace.

It all adds up to a lot of activity anchored by local history and very much in synch with a modern idea of New Orleans.

Crescent City Farmers Market at the French Market

Wednesdays, 2-6 p.m.

1235 N. Peters St.

For a list of vendors and other details, visit www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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