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)
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