Visiting farmers’ markets in summertime always serves as a much-needed reminder that food shopping can be enjoyable. From Brooklyn to Palo Alto, Martha’s Vineyard to New Orleans, I’ve found these open air venues to be a never-ending source of inspiration for cooking. I love the soil still clinging to garlic bulbs, the young members of the family business counting my change, and the vendors’ encouragement to try the Tatsoi, because that’s what’s local, fresh, and delicious.
Farmers’ markets support that handmade legacy to which we all aspire: connecting the consumer to the maker, and by doing so, connecting the consumer to the product. Through my farmers’ market experiences, I have developed the utmost respect for not just the growers, but the food itself. That’s why it made such inherent sense to me when I picked up JoAnn Cianciulli’s L.A.’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook. With recipes inspired by the stalls at this national landmark, she honors the history and community that contribute to every one of our meals. In this excerpt from JoAnn’s book, learn about the story behind the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax in Los Angeles, as well as a salivation-inducing recipe for Mee Goreng, a fried noodle dish, from Stall 122. How-Tuesday never tasted so good!
These days, all around the country, there are “farmers’ markets”—and then there is L.A.’s oldest outdoor market, the Original Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax. From its quaint beginnings in 1934, with local farmers selling produce from the backs of their trucks, to its current spot in the pantheon of Los Angeles’s official Historical and Cultural Landmarks, Farmers Market has proven that, indeed, some things really do get better with age. Millions of visitors each year agree.
In its early stages, Farmers Market was a cluster of farm stalls tenanted by small growers who sold directly to the consumer. The main appeal was the extra freshness of vegetables still damp from the morning soil, of fruits ripened on the tree rather than picked hard and green so that they would ship better. The farmers’ wives brought in their homemade jams and jellies, and alongside the newly laid eggs and plump fresh chickens were goodies like fresh-baked cookies, homemade breads, and rich chocolate layer cakes, all straight from farm kitchens. It wasn’t long before the butcher and grocer sought a place to do business alongside these farmers, who were drawing the patronage of people who knew a good thing when they nibbled it. In time, there appeared import shops and specialty-food stands of nearly every variety. And finally, as a result of an irresistible natural trend, Farmers Market became a cornucopia of restaurants.
Archival photo included in L.A.’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook
Today Farmers Market is a combination of family-owned and operated stalls featuring cuisine, groceries, produce, meats, and seafood from around the world. In a city full of wannabes, where a restaurant is considered a classic if it manages to hang around for more than a decade, the seventy-five-year-old Farmers Market is a miracle of longevity.
Archival photos included in L.A.’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook
Farmers Market is a thriving, ongoing festival of sights and sounds, flavors and smells in the center of our nation’s second-largest city. Overlooking one of the busiest corners of Los Angeles, Farmers Market occupies the intersection of Third Street and Fairfax Avenue, supremely anchored in the heart of the city’s shopping and dining district.
The original recipes in this cookbook reflect the personality of the Market and represent contributions from every kitchen. Far more than just a collection of weights and measures, this food lover’s storybook serves as an enduring companion piece that brings to life the experience that is a trip to Farmers Market. The multigenerational shop owners offer a one-on-one experience that has largely been lost in the service industry today. You can expect to do business with a human being, with a name and a face, who has both stories to tell and your personal satisfaction at heart. In short, the merchants are the Market, the faces behind the place. This all-encompassing memoir not only pays homage to their food, but also honors their varied and intense connections to the spirit of this unique place. No matter where you’re from, Farmers Market offers a taste of home, as the aromas of several hundred ingredients mingle with the sounds of chatter from several dozen nations.
Archival photo included in L.A.’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook
The sense of being welcome and comfortable is evident in the eyes and the smiles of all who visit, be they old or young, veteran or first-timer. This is why the location is so special. It’s the reason people gather here. It’s why the phrase, “Meet Me at Third and Fairfax” has become an indelible part of the city’s lexicon. This is not only a book to cook from, to learn from, to relish; it’s one that will re-create the very soul of being at Farmers Market.
Mee Goreng Recipe:
The stall of Singapore’s Banana Leaf might be small, but the flavor of the food is big and not to be missed. The cuisine of Singapore is a delicious blend of Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Malay cuisines. Family trio Diana and Isaac Gazal and their son, Michael, opened this popular eatery in 2001 after realizing the Market atmosphere was pleasantly similar to an actual Singapore hawker (outdoor food stall). The hybrid wonders of the cuisine were obscure to the owners of Farmers Market, and in true Hollywood style, the Gazals had to audition their specialties for them. They were blown away by the taste of Diana’s various delicacies and impressed by her signature approach of showcasing every dish on a banana leaf. And so this cozy gem of a hideaway, with its ceiling fans overhead and its wicker chairs and printed tablecloths, began.
Soon Asians, Malaysians, Indian, and Muslim clientele were flocking to the Market for the real deal of Singaporean-style curries and noodles. Diana came to the United States when she was seventeen years old, with twenty-five dollars, a suitcase, and the ability to cook. She’s been in the kitchen all her life and her commitment to the restaurant and its quality is exceptional. In her mind, the true seal of honorary approval came when the president of Singapore visited and loved the authenticity of her dishes. And it is well-deserved kudos for this mini-powerhouse of a woman who stands all of 4 feet 10 inches tall but is a ball of fire who lets nothing get in the way of her dream or her cooking. The menu’s recipes were all developed by her, and the vibrant tastes can be attributed to the curry leaves grown fresh in their home garden, a must-have ingredient in many of the dishes. With Diana on the food front, Isaac in charge of the books, and charming Michael handling public relations, Singapores’ Banana Leaf continues to be a happy family affair and best of all, as a team, they put the delicious cuisne of SIngapore on the map at the Market.
Mee Goreng, one of the better known dishes of Singapore, is a standard hawker-stall favorite. Goreng means “fried” and mee means “noodle”—in this case thin yellow egg noodles. Vermicelli makes a fine substitute if you can’t find the real deal. At Singapore’s Banana Leaf, the spicy noodles are topped with your choice of tofu, chicken, or the most requested—Indo style—a fried egg.
Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil, uncovered. Simmer until there is no resistance when a fork is inserted into the potatoes, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander. While they are still hot, carefully peel off the skins with a paring knife; use a kitchen towel to hold them. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the noodles until just tender but still firm to the bite (al dente), about 7 minutes. Take care not to overcook. Rinse under running cool water and drain well. Set aside.
Place a wok or large skillet over medium heat and coat with the oil. When the oil gets hazy, add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook and stir until the vegetables are tender but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and continue to cook and stir for 2 minutes to combine and heat through.
Push the vegetables to the sides of the pan and pour the eggs into the center. Scramble the eggs lightly until set, breaking them up into pieces with a spatula. Incorporate the vegetables into the eggs; season with the tumeric, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste.
Add the drained noodles to the wok, stirring and tossing quickly to separate the strands. Pour in the soy sauce, tossing well to coat the noodles and keep them from sticking (drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water, if necessary). Add the bean sprouts and green onions; cook and stir until softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Photograph by hhhillaryyy
Divide the noodles among 4 plates, top with a fried egg, if using, and garnish with sliced green onion and fried shallots. Serve with lime wedges.
Dying to learn more recipes from L.A.’s Farmers Market? Chronicle Books is offering a special discount to Etsy readers! Just use the code “ETSY” at checkout on their site, and you save 20% off the price as well as free shipping. That’s just perfectly delectable!