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It began with a jar of sweet jalapeno jelly in my mother’s fridge in San Francisco, where I was on one of my annual visits a couple of summers ago. Jet-lagged, devoid of appetite, my interest was piqued as she spread it on a savoury Indian crepe, which came in packages of three, also in the fridge. As a garnish, a few bright yellow and deep purple heirloom tomatoes. «Where’d all this come from?» I asked. «This? The farmer’s market, at the Ferry Building. You’ve just got to go one of these days, it’s amazing.»
The Ferry Building? In my memory, the Ferry Building existed only as a huge, grimy monolith, which I remembered cloaked in a sort of foggy abandon. After thirteen years of living in Europe, clearly things down by my hometown’s waterfront had changed. Now the San Francisco Ferry Building (and its thrice-weekly Farmer’s Market) is “an urban eater’s heaven” in a city already renowned as a haven for foodies.
Located at the city’s easternmost tip, The San Francisco Ferry Building, now a historical landmark, has graced the waterfront since 1898, when ferry boats were still the primary source of transit between the city and the rest of the Bay Area; the grand port of entry was a bustling centre of public life. By the mid-20th Century, however, the elevated freeways and the Golden Gate and Bay bridges had all but cut off the city from its once-strategic waterfront, and the Ferry Building fell into a limbo state of quasi-disuse. And then, in 1989, the dramatic Loma Prieta earthquake damaged that part of the freeway beyond repair and caused its eventual demolition. Only then did urban planners and politicians began to consider the potential of this iconic building.
In the early 1990s, two separate stories fortuitously converged: the “renaissance” of the city’s landmark Ferry Building, whose ten-acre urban space was to be converted into a covered, permanent marketplace, and the emergence of what has now come to be known as the San Francisco “food movement”. Already a city of food-conscious people in a mix of nationalities, in the nineties San Franciscans began to become more aware of the abundant local bounty produced by the vast number of Northern and Central California orchards, farms and pastures.
Now, the Ferry Building Marketplace is a veritable cornucopia of permanent, individual shops, restaurants and kiosks with a focus on Bay Area-produced artisanal foods, products and merchants. From Beekind, a kiosk selling pure, pesticide free honey, bee pollen and gorgeous beeswax candles, to the charming French-inspired pastry shop Miette Cakes, to the highly addictive and worth-the-queue Blue Bottle Coffee, to the “handmade salumi” specialist, Boccalone, there’s a temptation for every taste.
The entire range of Acme’s award-winning bread is baked throughout the day right on site; right next door you’ll find the unmatched selection of local and worldwide speciality cheeses, plus helpful and expert staff at theCowgirl Creamery. Take home the best catch of the day (with tanks of live crabs and lobsters) from The San Francisco Fish Co, which offers a special “New Orleans”-inspired takeaway menu every Tuesday.
If they’re to your liking, there’s no better place to eat oysters on the half-shell than U-shaped, 25-seat central table at Hog Island Oysters. A Tuscan mood meets California ingredients at the Cane Rosso rotisserie and sandwich bar, and the Ferry Building is home to one of San Francisco’s most beloved and acclaimed restaurants, the shrine to modern Vietnamese cooking, The Slanted Door.
Clearly, it is literally impossible to leave the Ferry Building Marketplace either empty handed or hungry. If it’s a nice day, and you’re in a rush, I strongly suggest an organic beef hotdog with hand-chopped pickle condiment from the Prather Ranch Meat Co and perhaps a green tea ice cream cone from Ciao Bella Gelato –and enjoy them on one of the many benches in the rear of the Ferry Building, with a spectacular bay front view. For a complete listing and a comprehensive idea of what treasures, edible and otherwise, you can find at the Ferry Building Marketplace, check out its website and even sign up for its newsletter here – get a taste of the best of San Francisco artisan foods, without the jet lag!
If you happen to visit on either a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, you’re going to be in for an even more special treat. All year round, rain or shine (or fog), the Plaza outside the Ferry Building plays host to the city’s most upscale and bustling Farmer’s Market – it’s like a gigantic, urban dining room, where you’ll run into suited business men drinking fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, parents perusing the season’s best produce, curious foodies nibbling at free samples, the “dotcommers” stocking up for organic apples or “kettle corn” to munch in the office, and a whole row of on-site kiosk-tents where food is prepared on site and at the moment. From falafel to ramen noodles, Indian dosas to Italian pizzas, vegan tamales to organic bacon cheeseburgers, around lunchtime the lines are long but the wait is short as these local vendors quickly dish out some of the city’s finest street food.
This market is underwritten by CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture), which organises 11am cooking demonstrations on Saturdays as well as a variety of special, educational events centred around sustainable farming, shopping and cooking. When visiting the Farmer’s Market, don’t forget to bring your own bag (if you don’t have your own, your purchases will be given out in bio-degradable ones) and of course...your camera and appetite!
HOW TO GET THERE
The Ferry Building Marketplace is located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street. It is the centre of a transit hub that connects all of San Francisco's neighbourhoods and the surrounding bay communities. The marketplace is accessible by MUNI, BART and Ferry Boat. The historic trolley cars (Line F Market) stop directly in front of the Ferry Building.
The opening hours for individual merchants, restaurants and shops do vary, but the minimum hours of business for the Marketplace are 10am-6pm (Mon-Fri), 9am-6pm (Sat), 11am-5pm (Sun)
10am-2pm (Tues. & Thurs.), 8am-2pm (Saturdays)