Monday, May 5, 2014

[Travel] Pike Place Market, Seattle

Lying awake recently in a Seattle hotel bed, I reached for my phone, opened Twitter and typed "#SleeplessInSeattle". Very cheesy I know, but I was excited to be in this famous coastal city, perched atop hills in the northwest of the USA. Bright spring sunshine on Friday evening had dispelled any preconceptions I had around Seattle weather and the lush greenery on my taxi-ride from the airport had definitely brightened my mood.

I wasn't too happy to learn though that Seattle is steeply hilly, just like it's southerly cousin of San Francisco. If I'd known that, I might not have chosen a hotel perched up on the hills. I found myself in a semi-squatting walking gait on more than one occasion in order to counterbalance the sharp pull of gravity. And we're better off not talking about the walk back up the hill. On the plus side, the nighttime views from the bar atop the Renaissance Seattle were rather amazing. 

Saturday morning was bright and fresh, so I struck out for a visit to the famous Pike Place Market. Opened in 1907, this farmers' market is one of the oldest continuously operated markets in the US.  It's a sprawling affair, strung along Pike Place and covering several stories. Walking in under the iconic sign, I am greeted by a cacophony of colour, smells and sounds. 
The iconic sign at the entrance
The Corner Market Building
The first thing I notice are the fishmongers, whose stalls are piled high with crushed ice and a treasure trove of seafood.  Gigantic lobster tails have me dreaming of melted butter, while single serve oyster shots make me think about impromptu picnics along the waterfront. I had been warned to expect the "flying fish" but I am still enthralled by the chanting of the fishmongers, accompanying the flinging of fresh fish from the front to the back of the stall. 
Individual oyster shots at Pike Place Market
Gigantic rock lobster tails at Pike Place Market
The market is packed full of all kinds of stalls, from fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables and street food to collectables and arts & crafts. The market area is even home to about 500 residents, though I imagine they must be haunted by the number of tourists that congregate throng the area.
Multicoloured fingerling potatoes at Pike Place Market
Visit the dentist at Pike Place Market
A colleague had given me several tips for Pike Place Market, so I started to work my way through the list at Beecher's Handmade Cheese. Having pre-loaded with medication to suppress my reaction to wheat, I was ready to experience their "World's Best Mac & Cheese" and their classic grilled cheese sandwich. The mac & cheese was ladled out as I ordered, but the grilled cheese is made fresh to order. I took a seat on a milk churn and watched curds being stirred in the room next door as I waited for my sandwich. 

Mac & cheese, I can take or leave as ultimately, it's just cheesy pasta. However, the grilled cheese sandwich was a thing of oozing, creamy beauty. A combination of Flagship and Just Jack cheeses (the same as in the mac & cheese) was completely melted, flowing out from the grilled bread in soft strings with sweet and nutty flavours. For a grilled cheese fiend like myself, this was manna from heaven.
Seating at Beechers
Beecher's World's Best mac & cheese
Ready to be unwrapped - my grilled cheese sandwich
The oozing cheesiness of Beecher's grilled cheese
Later, I came to Rachel's Ginger Beer flagship store in Pike Place Market. This zingy and flavoursome drink is available in many different varieties including original, strawberry and carrot & beet. As the sun was shining (and it had passed the proverbial yardarm), I went for a Porch Swing cocktail, which was a refreshing mix of ginger beer, gin and Aperol (and just $8). I pulled out my iPad and enjoyed some time sipping my drink and planning my next moves. 
Flavoured ginger beers at Rachel's Ginger Beer
After leaving Rachel's Ginger Beer, I went up one street and down another, eventually finding my way through a mall to Piroshky Piroshky Bakery. This Russian bakery has been open since 1992, feeding the long lines of locals and tourists alike who queue patiently for their turn. A fellow tourist who joined me in the queue struck up a conversation. It turns out that he didn't even know what he was queueing for, but he was working on the principle that the place seemed popular, so therefore it was worth queuing. 

A piroshky is essentially a handheld pie, and the shelves at this little bakery were loaded with a wide variety of sweet and savoury. I was sorely tempted to order several, especially as I watched the workers fold and glaze the pies in preparation for the oven. Miraculously though, some form of restraint kicked in and I ordered a single warm cheddar cheese and garlic roll. One of my guiding principles in life is that the addition of cheese makes anything better. And this roll was a cheese-lovers delight, with ample amounts of cheddar seeded between the pastry folds. My wheat intolerance wasn't going to be thanking me later, but the cheese-loving portion of my brain was already in heaven. 
Piroshky Piroshky Bakery
Delicious selection of sweet and savoury pastries
Pastries ready for the oven at Piroshky Piroshky

Next to Piroshky Piroshky is the original Starbucks shop. They've kept the old signage, but otherwise it is no different  to the many others shops around the world. It is cool though to think that a global chain grew from this wonderful food-loving area, and the queues of tourists outside clearly show the global love for Starbucks.
The original Starbucks on Pike Place
Check back in a few days for my little trip around the cocktail bars of Seattle, plus some Space Needle pictures.

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