Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Get a market...any market.

No matter how high-tech we become almost every city still maintains its local green market. This hub of activity serves as a crossroads for all the strata's of the community; a weekly outing for the family; place to parade and strut; gather libelous tales of gossip as well as helpful recipe hints. Sydney's Paddy's Market was all this and more for me.

For the two years I lived in this city, where the frangipani is always in bloom and the jacaranda cast a springtime purple haze over neighborhood streets not week would go by that I did not wait with great anticipation for my market day. For this particular market gave more than just exotic products and old favorites to play with it offered a glimpse of the entire world under one roof. Here the Asian Pacific Rim meets and converses with its distant European cousins.

In one corner the extended members of an Italian family sells intensely sweet sun dried tomatoes, hours old ricotta cheese and a myriad of cured olives all the while bellowing that out day's specials. Across the way a single woman sat vigil over a selection of homemade tofu -- some the best I have ever eaten. Freshly made phyllo, sweet redolent melons, huge blue pumpkins (a favorite of the Australians) all waited for my keen eye and sensitive nose. A particularly interesting vendor for me was a gentleman selling only Chinese greens: bok choy, eng choy, choy sum, gai choy -- I learned the word choy denotes a green leaf vegetable. Over the course of my visits I tried very choy he had to offer, stirring frying the eng choy; steaming the bok choy and shredding the choy sum into a lemon grass scented soup. He had an avuncular smile and eyes that alight with every question I proposed, which there were many.

It was spring, no it was autumn, I never got use to the reversed seasons, and although the weather said winter was coming, my internal calendar screamed summer. So, I went to the market yearning for something new and ripe. I roamed the aisles in the hopes of being seduced by something that would plicate my out of season timing. There at a quiet end of the hustle and bustle, squeezed between crates of oranges and shining green peppers stood a man with fresh knobs of turmeric, bundles of cilantro, rows of chilies and fussy okra adorning his table. While his labor bore beautiful produce it was an odd, inhospitable looking thing that intrigued me. It was the size of a soft ball; had a mottled reptilian skin and was very dense to the touch. I had found it -- something new, something that piqued my creative need. Excitedly I inquired about this vegetable, which I was told was called breadfruit. I felt slightly deflated for I was really seeking a savory favor and thought I'd have to be contented with a fruit salad that day. Then he started to describe how it had a starchy interior that got baked, steamed or stewed. Questioning him further I asked him for his favorite recipe, that brought our conversation to a halt. He was not the cook in his home, and he turned to his wife and repeated my query. She and I had a long and informative exchange concerning the breadfruit as well as the usage of chilies, the toasting of curries and how to make coconut relish. I was agog with ideas for the breadfruit and bought one. Once home I made a sublime Breadfruit Curry Stew with toasted cashews and coconut that became the most requested stew of that summer...I mean winter.

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