Saturday, March 1, 2008

Alemany, the Best Market on Earth

Last week I tried to describe to a mysterious Southern gentleman the appeal of the Alemany market. Many components inform the mix, but, like good jam, the mess boils down to one idea, and to me it's the sense of community.

I grew up on my great-grandparents' farm, living cheek-to-jowl with aunts, an uncle, cousins, and my grandparents, in addition to my siblings. In fourth grade we were asked to describe our family, including their number. I said my family included 11 people, not understanding the concept of 'nuclear.' The teacher must have thought us part of some religious sect.

At the market I get a palpable sense of San Francisco as my community. Alemany feels like a real neighborhood market: representing San Francisco's diverse population in its buyers, sellers and (affordable) produce.

A couple months ago I forgot my wallet at home. The market rests flush against a highway, far from any ATM machine. I walked through the stalls to get a sense of what was available that week, and by the end of my visit I had carrots, oranges, apples and a cookie, all for free.

Of course, the best part is visiting with my market friends.

Here's Maria, my partner-in-crime, if food is a crime. Since I moved out to farther Mission, we usually head over together, which has made rainy winter shopping more enjoyable. As we saw a man binding together these pussy willows, I said "Oh, for whipping people? Is it that time already?" They looked at me as if I'd said "That Dick Cheney seems like a real decent fellow." But I am not crazy!

Marco, as you know if you've met him, is a force to behold. An amazing compendium of food knowledge, and entirely generous about sharing it, to boot. If you haven't been to one of his Cook Here and Now dinners, you should make that goal your life's work. I've been baking bread for the last few weeks, and frustrated by the results. "Don't worry," he said, "I've been baking for 12 years, and I still don't always get it right."

This is Mrs DeSantis, who sells me my citrus, including the rangpure limes I'm using this week for marmalade. "Mrs DeSantis, I don't know what to make this week!" I cry, brow furrowed. She makes it easy.

Guisell sells the best coffee in the market, and is the force behind Sabores del Sur, and creator of what is commonly regarded as the best cookie on earth. She works with La Cocina, a food nonprofit for which I volunteer, so sometimes I'm lucky enough to run into her outside of the market, too.

Chris from Capay swears he used to model. That fact is unconfirmed, but I can confirm that he sells the best kale in the market.

I didn't find Dan or his delightful daughter Mia this week; last week she was buying strawberries to dip in chocolate for her mom's Oscar party.

On the preserved fruit front this week: rangpure lime marmalade, from Mrs DeSantis.

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