Sunday, June 28, 2009

Irvine Farmers' Market - Irvine



Don't be like me: Don't put off visiting the Irvine Farmers Market. Though I've lived in the city for more than 15 years and was both an undergraduate and graduate student at UCI, it wasn't until last Saturday that I made my pilgrimage.

What spurred my sudden resolve? Well, I had to catch an early Saturday morning screening of Food, Inc. at the University Town Center Edwards. It's the only theater in O.C. to show it. And since I was up anyway, I made it a point to flip-flop over to the weekly gathering of local farmers, which takes place on the same parking lot.

As it turns out, the film and the farmers' market foray could've been billed as a double feature -- one complements the other. Food, Inc., a muck-racking exposé on the factory food system, scared the bejesus out of me; and the farmers' market suckled me back from depression with proof that there is still some hope left in the world.

Here in the embrace of rows upon rows of just-picked produce, I found solace. It's like a mother's soothing voice reassuring you after waking up from a nightmare. It seems to purr, "There there, it'll be alright...here, have a nectarine."

But moreover, for people like me, who are zombies to the supermarket produce aisle, the experience is like unplugging from The Matrix. At the Irvine Farmers' Market, reality exists in brighter Technicolor, where sunlight, fresh air and human interaction reign.

Here's an example of the later: I stopped by a stall stocked with all the vegetable components to make a Filipino dish I love called pinakbet. As I was admiring long beans the length of whips and bumpy-skinned bitter melon, the Filipina proprietor started a conversation.

I asked her about the ampalaya (that's Tagalog for bitter melon). But since that's about the only Tagalog I speak, she finds out quickly that I wasn't Pinoy, which seemed to make her even more excited that I was interested in it.

"Oh! This is great with ground beef! Slice it up, stir fry it with the meat, garlic, onion, and some oyster sauce!" she said.

"Should I soak it in salt first to get the bitterness out?" I pressed on.

"Oh no. I don't do that. The bitterness is good for you. He eats it raw," she said as she pointed towards her Caucasian husband, who was quietly nodding off in a lawn chair behind her, "it's good for lowering his blood sugar."

Then, after I paid her for my haul, she goes over to a bin, grabs an armful of eggplants, and gives it to me for free. "This is for tortang talong," she winks.

Think that could ever happen at a supermarket?

But this gathering is not just about getting to know the people who grow your organic and locally-grown produce. You'll also become acquainted with fresh fish mongers, vendors selling roasted corn on the cob, scratch bakers, even a sausage purveyor. Over the years, this farmers' market has grown to become a large, shapeless amoeba-like maze of vegetable virtue and hand-crafted goods.

To find out more about it, read the detailed report by Chubbypanda on OC Food Blogs and the post by Professor Salt wrote on his blog.

Whatever you do, just go. Either to this one, which is conveniently held every Saturday (8 a.m. - noon) rain or shine, or the others located all over Orange County.

My only other advice: Bring money and sunscreen. It is a bright and sunny world out there.

Irvine Farmers' Market
The University Center at the corner of Bridge and Campus (across from UCI)
Every Saturday, 8 a.m. - Noon (rain or shine)

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Zen Vegetarian - Westminster

24 Comments:

At 6:50 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8:38 AM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Nice video! It looks like a eventful farmers market. I'll remember to visit this place next time I go to UCI...which is probably in a few months.

The band that you show in the end of the video is big! We sometimes have people like Jake's Roadhouse which brings along a full big band, but usually around the farmers market there are more people doing solos and guitar playing

 
At 6:57 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Does anyone besides me find farmer's markets over priced? Especially the hummus guy.

A lot of the produce is much better than the stores, but a lot isnt IMHO

Elmo, when are you going to do the bacon wrapped filets at Steer Inn??

 
At 1:50 AM, Blogger J. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 1:52 AM, Anonymous eaterdeltustin said...

Shame on you for not going to the Farmer's Market until now. 15 years? Huh???

Btw, Lazy Dog Cafe is coming to Market Place. My guess is the former Black Angus Spot. Don't know where else it would be.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

You know how to make pinakbet? Recipe please. I adore that dish!

Ooh! Singing in my bloggie. :-)

 
At 8:45 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

EatTravelEat,

Thanks! The band was bigger than usual that week I think. The next weekend (yes, I went the following week too) was just a guy with a guitar. Actually, it's nice to have any musical accompaniment. I would've been fine if it was a twelve year old with a kazoo.

D.D.,

I came very close to trying Steer Inn a few weeks ago. I had a craving for steak. But then I realized I still needed to do a new place down in NB (see this Thursday's OC Weekly for that review). After that place, my quota for fatty meat was maxed. I guess the nutritional good that vegetarian place did was quickly undone.

eater,

I know. I know. I hang my head in shame! But you'd be glad to know that I've been there two weekends in a row now. And I plan to be there this weekend too! Possibly every subsequent weekend thereafter. I'm hooked.

Thanks for the scoop on Lazy Dog! That's cool news!

Juliet,

Oh I know the recipe, but I haven't made it. I got it from a good friend of mine, but still haven't gotten the time to attempt it. And I want to wait until I can devote my full attention to it before I do. When I achieve full-on pinakbet-ness, I'll share it with you!

 
At 8:59 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

I'm on it for this weekend - I have no excuse for not going before.
You had me at that pic of the perfect tomato!

 
At 10:56 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

also on a side note....the girl in the bottom left picture in the white pants needs to go up a size.

 
At 11:17 AM, Blogger Bill said...

DD be nice ;-)

Looks fun now I want to check out the movie.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger missingfly said...

I am so proud of you made it to the farmer's market and wrote a review. It is the greatest/biggest farmer's market I have visited around OC. IT is the better way to buy good fruits and veggies. Though, we have gotten some fruits that taste better at the market, but didn't taste as good once we get it home. If you stay till 11am, there is a raffles, you can win free fruits, plants, and veggies.

 
At 6:43 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

chris,

Ah! If I've convinced one person, I'm happy. I wish someone tried to convince me sooner. Apart from the produce, etc., it's just a fun thing to do on a weekend. It's an activity. Going to the supermarket is a chore.

DD and Bill,

Dudes! You guys crack me up and also mortify me at the same time. DD, for the record, I think that woman is fine-looking.

missingfly,

You're right! Last weekend (my second trip), they were discounting things so that they didn't have to take anything home with them. Near closing time is the best time to go if you want the best deals...but perhaps not the best picks.

 
At 2:17 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

It's ridiculous that I haven't gone in the last two years, once I really started cooking. Of course, in the last year, I get garden goodies from my coworker - he gave me a TJs bag full this morning. And I can't knock free Meyer lemons, basil, peppers, squash, TOMATOES, etc.

But it would still be really cool to go. :)

 
At 9:03 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Melissa,

Yes it's definitely just a fun activity to do, to get some fresh air, to get out there!

But for a non-cook like me, the farmers' market is a catalyst. I actually got inspired by it to cook more than Spam and rice this week.

 
At 10:38 AM, Blogger Ravenous Couple said...

how funny, we just posted on a new farmers market at barnsdall park in los angeles. we always love to browse, even if we don't buy.

 
At 3:20 PM, Blogger elleistc said...

omg! Thanks for reviewing this Ed! One of the things I missed dearly about living across campus. I like it way better than the LB ones I frequent at lunchtime now. They had a great selection for Asians living away from home and the people were always friendly. And so convenient, even when I slept in a little.

 
At 10:20 PM, Blogger Sawyer said...

these are some great pictures...gotta love the farmer markets. and nice story w/ the eggplants too! hey have you ever gone to the anthill pub? i'm taking summer school there and love their happy hour! any favorite eats around the area?

 
At 9:43 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Ravenous,

Ditto. The browsing is almost the best part for me. The eating, a close second.

elleistc,

It's true. Apart from the Filipina vendor there at the IFM, there is a purveyor of exclusively Taiwanese produce. I wish there were more prepared food vendors there, like Taiwanese street food, but I guess it then becomes something other than a farmers' market if that happened.

Sawyer,

You know what? I've never been to Anthill. I paid for the meal plan at Pippin Commons first two years, and then spent the last two vowing never to eat on campus (ugh, dorm food). Happy Hour sounds awesome though. I think I might try it one of these days! As far as recs in the area, I still go to that area for Stricklands. I was there two times in two days last week. BEST. ICE CREAM. EVER!

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger Diana said...

I love the Irvine Farmer's Market! Not sure if it is still there, but there used to be a stand that sold the most amazing cinnamon rolls made of croissants. Soooo good, but they'd always sell out early!

 
At 8:15 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Diana,

Croissant Cinnamon Rolls?! Wow! This I need to get. There are two bakeries that I know were there the last three Saturdays. I'll have to keep a closer look at their stock to check for this. I must have this.

 
At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Les said...

Reading this one makes me miss home...pinakbet! Tortang talong! You're killing me! If you'd hit me with mongo, too...aaagh. My stomach is eating itself and I'm drooling from hunger. Thanks for this post.

 
At 9:29 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Les,

I shoulda talked about the Philippine mangoes too! They had them there! Didn't take any though, because we already had a half-dozen "mango-flavored" nectarines.

Those eggplants made excellent tortang!

 
At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Josh said...

I've got to agree with Diamond Dog's comment on the hit-and-miss quality even though the prices, irregardless of quality, is much more expensive than the supermarkets.

For whatever reason, once you mention farmer's market, people become irrational and insist that its better even though it might not be true. Its the same mindlessness that drives people to eat at Whole Foods.

 
At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who do you contact for a vendor application?

 

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