The abundance of terrific organic produce available in San Francisco truly comes into its own mid April. You’ll find the arrival of purple and green asparagus, tender young garlic, fresh onions plucked from the ground. There’s no better place to buy the stone fruits and the heirloom tomatoes that taste of summer sunshine than at the city’s farmers’ markets and speciality shops. This fabulous assortment of venues provides a feast for the eyes and senses for shoppers.
For the most basic Provence-style farmer’s soup, you can’t beat a Wednesday morning at the Civic Centre Farmer’s Market. This market is easily reached by public transport, bike or on foot. It’s also down to earth — priced to appeal to local residents with budget constraints. It’s not all organic, but the owners are proud to sell the produce they’ve grown.
One of the treasures at the Civic Center is Ken’s Fresh Cut and Green. Mr Bahn’s tiny stall, next to the Simon Bolivar statue, carries fragrant herbs that are screaming to be joined in stir frys, soups, and curries. The essentials of European cooking sit next to Asian favorites with intoxicating perfume.
His arugula and dry-grown watercress, small lettuces and scallions are spectacular. His stall is always busy, his smile infectious, and his prices are ridiculously low. All the generous bunches of herbs are priced at a dollar or just over. His family has been farming in the Sacramento Delta for forty years; the experience shows in the taste.
Another great stand is by the Bart Station entrance. Here’s you’ll find one of the best purveyors to stock your fridge crisper.
Grown by Mateo Avil, the produce at Avila Farms is earthy and fresh: a wholesome reminder that the veg was pulled from the ground yesterday. There’s no fancy grooming here, but its beauty surpasses supermarket cellophane wrappings. This seasonal range of treats are always delicious.
With summer around the corner, head to the Civic Center for stone fruits. Here you’ll find branch-ripe cherries, plums and peaches, with free samples to dictate your purchases. Heirlooms, slicers and small firm salad tomatoes are a steal here compared to the fancier downtown markets that have sprung up in recent years.
Saturday mornings at the Ferry Building is must to gather a tremendous picnic or produce for home-cooked meals. People watching, street entertainers, flowers and food: if San Francisco’s a foodie city, then the Ferry Building is its centre.
The Golden Gate Meat Company is a great place to start for those planning a special meal. Their meats are organic and pasture fed, with a wide choice of game and home made sausages. They also have a great selection of cured sandwich meats.
The Far West Fungi store carries a smorgasbord of mushrooms from the rarest wild breeds, to the common brown button. Recently they’ve been stocking fiddlehead ferns, and wild ramps to roast with chicken, along with morel and porcini mushrooms.
Their speciality fungis are expensive, usually priced according to availability, but alway delicious. You’ll find yellow and pink tree oysters, woodears, and pioppini shrooms amongst others. They also stock quality dried mushrooms and grow-your-own kits.
Head inside the Ferry Building and you’ll find a host of great food shops. Freshly baked bread at Acme Bread Company, international and locally-grown coffee beans at Rancho Gordo, and world class cheese at the Cowgirl Creamery.
Outside the building, the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market has over 100 stalls selling mouthwatering produce at reasonable prices. The vegetables, fruits and flowers displayed are among the finest that can be found anywhere in the world.
Everything on sale in the market is of the highest quality, but there are a few stands you must try and visit.
Iacopi Farms produces vegetables that exude the taste of sunshine. Grown just 35 miles from the Ferry Plaza, Louis Iacopi has had a stall at the Embarcadero market since its inception. His artichokes, English peas, fava beans, and shelling beans are simply wonderful.
The same can said of the Dirty Girl Produce, whose quality organic food is grown in Santa Cruz. Their dry-farmed tomatoes are spectacular, and their late season fiery red cranberry beans are so delicious they need only be seasoned by a sprig of sage and local pressed olive oil. Once the tomato season gets going they often have a reject box sold at half price for sauces and soups.
Before the San Francisco food revolution that found it’s heart at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant, sourcing truly local grown organic produce was a hit and miss affair. The city had its share of co-ops run by vegetarian hippies and slightly weird owners who frowned on carnivores. Luckily a few stellar stores are still operating in an old time way, and there’s a couple that are worth a visit especially for great Italian and Greek foods.
In the mornings before an early lunch, it’s always great to peak through the windows at the Lucca Ravioli Company, on Valencia at the corner of 22nd Street. For almost a century they’ve been making homemade pasta at the Mediterranean shop. Their Italian grating cheeses are reasonably priced, there’s not many places that carry lamb salami, and their pickled pigs trotters are beautifully tender. However, this is the place to come for freshly made pasta. Their fridge recently held veal and three color cheese tortellini, cheese ravioli, stuffed shells Florentine, and cheese manicotti. Stock up the pantry with imported Italian dry goods and tomatoes-based essentials.
Out in the foggy Avenues, the funky and informal 22nd and Irving Market is known for its amazing variety Italian and Greek produce. It’s still a great last minute shop to find unusual ingredients. Some produce is organic, some of isn’t, but the standards are high. It’s worth a trip for the ambience, and their French feta cheese must be sampled.
For the adventurous there’s nothing like a trip to Chinatown’s Stockton Street, with its wall to wall food shops. It’s here that Chinatown locals bargain for some amazing deals. It’s the place to source ingredients for Asian meals, particularly as the prices are bewilderingly low.
Watch out for deals at the fishmongers with their enormous displays of sea fish, shellfish, shrimp, and farmed carp. At 1207, the New Luen Sing Fish Market always has an array of super fresh local fish. Watch out, they only take cash and being understood can be a little difficult. But once you’ve tried a slice of skate, it will be well worth it.