I remember griping about and sorely yearning for the sort of farmer's markets I so loved in London and New York. I started off as a newbie foodie, wandering around London's massive Borough Market with eyes as wide as my belly was bottomless for nibbles of Neal's Yard Dairy cheeses, handmade cakes, and artisanal sausages. I shortly thereafter became a "stall person" myself by working for Nick, selling his yummy cakes at the Sloane Square market no matter how hard the sun shined or the rain fell... just being around craft food-makers and swapping my cakes for their Moroccan tagine and couscous/peppermint fudge/Pecorino cheese/sourdough bread, would warm my heart to compensate for the tips of my fingers and toes freezing off during the winter months.
It's so inspiring to see that, here in Beijing, there are also passionate food crafters who are also pretty good at packaging and branding! Behind it all is Erica, who works for Vice Magazine and somehow manages to gather these food artisans and put together Farm to Neighbor, a once-monthly farmer's market to showcase great foods and promote the people behind it.
I brought my mom along and met up with Gorilla, Miranda and Chris. I left it to my mom to be the chatty one, and we had lively conversation with the Chinese rice wine guy (naturally, our first stop, even at 11:30 AM). We pledged ourselves to two ceramic bottles of the 5-year-aged, dry wines and moved on to the old bread guy, the French paté lady, the Rooibos tea duo, the muesli girls and the pie lady (our very own Lin Lin of Spoonful of Sugar/Jellymon/Re-Up).
What I love about these types of markets is that is just as much about the food as it is the people behind it. Yesterday we met:
The old bread guy: wispy Fu Manchu beard; son who is a star pastry chef for Maxim's de Paris in Shanghai (hence same boss as me); passionate about the art of making naturally leavened, sourdough breads with a crackling crust that sings to him to indicate their readiness; and a beautiful renovated house up in Badaling near the Great Wall where he hosts regular gatherings of food professionals, and to which I talked myself into.
The Rooibos tea duo: Chinese girl and guy; tea packaging, branding and brand name "Smash a Cup" so good I didn't even need a tea sample to smash a ¥100 note into the palms of their hands for a box of mint Rooibos.
The Paté lady: French-speaking, very enthusaistic Chinese lady who handmakes paté de campagne (rough, country-style, pork paté) and a silky and pleasantly coarse duck liver paté. I bought a jar of paté de campagne with morel mushrooms, which has barely survived my knife and grain toast assault on it today. So yum.
The rice wine guy: an artistic eye, something I really appreciate; I commented on how nice his display looked, with a deep blue tablecloth advertising his "home style" rice wine. He proudly told us he had it custom-made in a traditional fabric dying process I'd seen before in Shanghai, which I call "Chinese tie-dye". It was inspiring to see how a simple product can be transformed into an artful way of living with attention to details like the ceramic vase that contains it to the way it's proudly displayed.
Pie and cake lady, Lin Lin of Spoonful of Sugar: Lin Lin is always a ray of sunshine, a magical fairy powered by an Energizer battery. I was so delighted to see her set up shop in the market after meeting Erica at my Christmas brunch party just two weeks ago! I am also delighted she used her magic fairy wand to lure Helen, a talented and sparkly young baker from London (but originally from New Zealand) to make the sorts of sweets and savouries that I love and miss -- things like her poached pear & chili tart and moreish hand pies with flaky pastry and lava-hot, melting insides of chicken and mushrooms.
Seeing these food artisans at work and Erica's enduring commitment to nurturing a scene of good, honest food made me want so badly to throw caution to the wind and do my own small-batch goods. I hope that after JoySeed gets off to a smooth start, I'll be able to do this on the side... 'til then I'll just keep showing up and making sure I have enough bread for the paté, and room inside my tummy for another freshly baked pie.