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Old New York Gets a New Amsterdam Market

Are there really vineyards on Long Island? Yes. Where did the cocoa in the chocolate come from? Ecuador. What is in the Halve Maen pie? Mincemeat. Where can I normally buy this cheese? At Fairway. You really make handmade corn tortillas? Yes. Such were the questions directed toward producers at the New Amsterdam Market on South Street this past Sunday. Inspired by the notion that great public markets make great cities, the organization selected dozens of A-list regional producers to set up shop to sell their fare for the market's inaugural event.

Markets are ancient. Selling goods and produce in places where many are gathered has long propelled the growth of cities. Producers in rural areas travel to the city where they find buyers. Over time, many who grow the produce or make other goods move to the edge of the city to be closer to the action, and more people gather to shop and talk in the markets. Les Halles in Paris, a legendary wholesale central market in Paris, flourished for hundreds of years, and in the mid-19th century great glass and iron buildings were built to house the merchants. By the mid-1960s, however, the crowded stalls were perceived as an impediment to traffic. The city dismantled the structures in the early 1970s, leaving behind a mess. An underground mall, an enormous subway station and the fast-food friendly Forum replaced the ancient markets, leading to a rather unfortunate decline of the area. The city has since been trying to replace the Forum with something better.

Markets play an equally important role in New York's history, but many have faded away - among them the Washington Market in present-day Tribeca and the Fulton Fish Market in its old location (providing the backdrop for the New Amsterdam Market). Yet, the interest in slow, artisanal food and healthier organic produce has created a need for new markets among conscientious consumers. Furthermore, and this was perhaps the most reassuring trend I observed at the New Amsterdam Market, many young people are showing an interest in the older craft aspects of food production, whether it's wine, cheese, bread, or chocolate.

One thing I appreciate about shopping in a public market is the ability to chat with individual merchants. This kind of exchange of questions and answers about consumables and their production mirrors the ideal of the political public space, a notion inspired by the polis of classical Greece where toga-draped men spoke great words about civic virtue. With a direct exchange of thoughts among citizens, compelling actionable policies move forward. I don't think we'll be discussing the merits of a war with Sparta at the New Amsterdam Market, but we could form the basis for long-lasting relationships. Getting to know the people that make our food is virtuous enough.

To bring this discussion down to earth, I ate two yummy things on site at the market - a succulent brisket and slaw sandwich from Marlow & Sons (Brooklyn) and a delicious Halve Maen Pie from Bathazar Bakery (it tasted like Thanksgiving Day). I also purchased handmade corn tortillas from the Hot Bread Kitchen (Brooklyn), a rustic bread from Sullivan Street Bakery (Hell's Kitchen), and a bottle of chardonnay from Paumanok Vineyards (Aquebogue, NY) for later.

The next dates scheduled for the New Amsterdam Market (official site) are October 25, November 22, and December 20, all extremely well-timed in advance of the nearby holidays.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from September 13, 2009.









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