It is a sad, sad place in the world that has absolutely nothing noteworthy about it. Fortunately Cleveland has a few, and one of these is the West Side Market, which is a century old and without question one of the best markets I’ve ever been to. Certainly the best in the USA where we unfortunately don’t have many around anymore!
Inside view from the upper balcony, usually occupied by people-watchers eating lunch. Nearly all the places are family owned and lots of tasty ethnic eats- my favorites are the bratwurst stall, the crepes stall, and the gyro one. Settled for a gyro this past weekend, and the ones at the stall are so delicious that word got out to the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food– a show on them will be aired June 23rd.
Anyway, lunch done, time to go look around and see what the market has to offer- in short, everything. And somehow it’s so much more of an experience to go around peering through the cases to decide what exactly you want, people in the crowd exchanging tips with each other on where to get the best smokies or fresh-baked bread, smiles and banter from the stall owners trying to catch your eye, eventually making selections and handing over cash. Funny how even the cash part seems novel to me, as most of the time you use plastic these days. But what are you going to do when the dairy stall that cuts butter from a block and sour cream from a bucket wants two dollars and definitely has no credit card machine?
Mmmm cheese- the only place to ever stock up for a wine and cheese party, though the mice are optional. *wink* Lots of crazy-expensive imported ones too…
Surf ‘n turf as fresh as it gets in a landlocked city at least. The fish place (across from the gyro stall!) has a sign promising to fillet your fish for free, and the pig is there to establish you can get pretty much any cut you want. Seriously, I know many a happy forgeiner in Cleveland who gets excited because you can find liver and kidneys and all sorts of delicacies you never really find in the US because we don’t eat the insides of an animal. Or go to butcher shops for that matter, I can’t think of one not at the West Side Market, where there’s several so you’ve gotta stand out (there’s a Hungarian butcher too actually, specializing in kolbasz and salami).
Speaking of ethnic delicacies…
Found on the shelves of a European and Middle Eastern importer. One interesting thing about Cleveland is everyone came over with an ethnicity and still holds onto it hard and our market reflects that- Hungarian sausages, Italian pastas, French crepes, Syrian hummus, and in more recent years stalls run by Mexican and Cambodian families have opened. So if I cannot travel the world, it’s nice to have all the food of the world come to you!
Last but not least, time to pick up the fresh produce! Wandering around, checking prices, trying samples, finally stopping to ask an accented lady how much the raspberries are.
“For you, three dollar,” she says, but I shake my head. We size each other up in a second when she realizes I’m the rarity of an American who knows how to bargain, or knows that you should in the first place. We finally settle on a container of raspberries and two of blackberries for four dollars, which leaves us both happy. And I won’t even get into the lady I negotiated blackberries and apricots with, mainly because I wasn’t planning on getting apricots in the first place!
Anyway, finally left the market and headed for the train stop with the wallet $40 lighter and canvas bag a great deal heavier with fruit, fresh mozerella and sour cream, pad thai, dumplings, sliced ham, corn salsa, tzatziki and pita bread, and half the gyro I started at lunch later (if anyone actually eats one of those gyros in a sitting I’ve yet to see it). All in all enough to keep me fed for a week- no idea why you’d go to a supermarket with such a place nearby.