It seems to me that living in Los Angeles can often be a rather surreal experience. Driving across the city this morning took me along Wilshire Boulevard, through the heart of Beverley Hills and across the infamous Rodeo Drive, where shop windows boast Gucci, Dior and Chanel. Of course I’m still more used to seeing this place in the movies than real life, but I’m suddenly very conscious of my position as a tourist, and am struck by the novelty of my situation here.
My destination – rather more modest, perhaps no less impressive but certainly touristy – was the Los Angeles Farmers’ Market, at Third and Fairfax. Represented as the original farmer’s market (perhaps to distinguish it from the developing group of certified farmer’s markets that emerged from the 1970s), it was formally established in 1934. Motivated by the Great Depression, it was intended as a place where people could buy fruit and vegetables direct from local farmers who sold fresh produce straight from their trucks. This – and much more – about the development of the site can be gleaned from a number of historical displays, which include not only written information but also a replica gas station representing the oil interests of A.F.Gilmore, the original owner of the site in 1870. In typical Los Angeles fashion, this marketplace is now a very polished enterprise with over 100 shops and restaurants. Bright, clean and successful, it is also somehow reminiscent of a theme park, although LA does tend to do this rather well, and if you’re able to look beyond the obvious effort that clearly goes into creating this space, then you should be able to enjoy it.
I arrived at 9.30am, when the market is already vibrant and bustling, but certainly not crowded. It’s a good time to be there. Small groups of tourists are being led by guides. There is laughter, chatter and the subtle sounds of food preparation – chopping, slicing, sizzling. There are 38 restaurants crowded into what is a relatively small space, and the smell is amazing. Sweet, savoury, salty. I stop at Bob’s Doughnuts for a late breakfast (my doughnut is not only cooked fresh on the premises, it is actually still warm), sit down and look around. I can see numerous restaurants, and am tempted in turn by gourmet hot dogs (the pigs are humanely raised, fed a vegetarian diet and are antibiotic free), a mouth-watering display of barbequed meats, and a range of freshly-prepared Mediterranean fare. Elsewhere you can buy tapas, crepes, seafood, salad or sushi. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the choice is impressive. I’m also struck by the quality of what is being prepared here – what is essentially a food court is serving the very best of fast food to locals and tourists alike.
But there is ample opportunity to buy more than a ready-to-eat meal, with a number of grocery, produce and speciality shops. I couldn’t resist the incredible selection of fruit, and came away with an assortment of cactus fruit, papaya, guava, dragon fruit and pomegranate. Mr Marcel’s Gourmet Market sells a remarkable range of high quality items including cooked meat, paté and cheese, oil, pesto, tapenade and salt. And there is so much more to explore – spices, meat, poultry, pasta, pies, nuts, candy and cake. There’s a shop that sells nothing but hot sauce. This is almost too easy, but there actually is a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker.
I already know that I’m going to go back . And I already know what I’m going to have – the spicy Cajun and Creole inspired creations served at The Gumbo Pot, and the chocolate cardamom cake at the Short Cake bakery. In the meantime, I’ve bought the L.A’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook, and am already looking forward to experimenting with some new dishes.