Friday mornings will find me strolling through the packed stalls of our local farmers market, scanning the bins for seasonal produce and fresh flowers. This past week I found yellow sugar beets (delicious roasted with sea salt!) and several varieties of homemade pesto, made with sage, sunflower seeds, and pecorino. Being a bit of a pesto purist, I was sceptical of a pesto that did not include pine nuts, but I have to say this was some of the best pesto I have ever tasted. I’ve found that shopping at the local farmers market pushes me to practice Czech, meet the other residents of my neighborhood, and try foods that are new to me. I am often asked by friends and students about how the food in Prague compares the food in to my hometown of Seattle, so here are a few differences that I’ve noticed:
1) Fresh Italian veggies, cheeses, pasta, etc: My neighborhood of Vinohrady has several Italian delis, serving up fresh Italian
tomatoes, pungent olives, and savory cheeses and salamis. They are also a good source of tiramisu, fresh and dried pasta, and occasionally real gelato. I often visit the one nearest to the farmer’s market to stock up on pasta, raspberry champagne vinegar, and sliced salami. This one is also a cafe, and has a long, tall counter outside where locals drink morning coffee, enjoy a glass of wine on Friday afternoon, or simply stop to chat to a friend. Inside there are several solid white tables, covered with cheerful gingham tablecloths, set near the windows to catch the afternoon light.
2) Sun-ripened fruits, massive onions, or just plain odd cabbages: Farmers markets are prized for selling seasonal fruits and vegetables, often grown organically. Certain fruits or vegetables will appear at the farmers market for one or two weeks only, but they are fresh-picked and amazingly good. Apricots that are sweet and bursting with flavor, strawberries that melt in your mouth, and large baskets of white and red currants temptingly displayed. I have noticed that the vegetables are often larger than I am used to, such as green onions that are 18 inches long or heads of lettuce that are over a foot in diameter. Andrew, the onion lover, is thrilled with the humongous bunches of onions that I lug home, and will happily eat them as snack food. Every now and then I encounter a new vegetable, such as the pointy headed cabbages that appeared back in June. I have to say they remind me of the boss from the Dilbert comic strip.
3)Farmers market variety: Farmers markets are not limited to fruits, veggies, and the occasional bake stall. Here you can findfreshly pressed juices, in flavors such as cucumber, carrot, or pear. Slovakian wines are often sold here, from a famed wine region in southwest Slovakia. One of my favorites stalls features bins of raw or roasted nuts, dried fruits, and even edible dried hibiscus flowers (they’re delicious). There are three meat stalls, selling smoked Prague ham, sausages and kielbasa, and freshly ground meats. The fish stall, wisely relegated to the end of the market, offers fresh trout and several other kinds of fish. Several organic stalls feature homemade pestos, couscous salads, and organic baked goodies. One of my favorites is the herb stall, which sells a dozen kinds of herbs. I have learned to shop for herbs by scent, which is how I discovered that the local variety of mint carries a sharp peppery tang.
This past week I headed home with fresh farm eggs, butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and fresh parsley, basil and thyme. And a single stalk of mint, to garnish the chocolate mousse that night. “Bon appetit”, or, as the locals say, “doubrou chut!”