It’s wonderful to smell fresh fruit and vegetables, and it doesn’t hurt that the smells of fresh flowers are all around you.
That’s what it’s like when you enter the two farmers markets in Palo Alto, both of which are a short walk or bike ride from campus. The Palo Alto Farmers Market on Hamilton Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, parallel to University Avenue, is open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. The California Avenue Farmers Market on El Camino Real is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays. Both markets are fantastic alternatives to grocery stores because they offer fresher produce. Farmers and vendors come from all over the area, selling everything from a huge variety of mushrooms to delicious macarons and pastries.
A highlight of the Hamilton Avenue market was the stall from Far West Fungi, a 60,000-square-foot farm in Moss Landing, Monterey County. Far West Fungi sells more than 15 different kinds of mushrooms, from colorful lion’s mane mushroom to fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms. It’s not just the mushrooms that give the market color, though. The storefront for Cache Creek Lavender is a sea of color as well. Cache Creek Lavender sells floral products like dried lavender potpourri, in addition to many kinds of fresh flowers. Make sure to go there even if you’re not planning to buy anything – the selection is a bit more than a traditional florist’s shop, and the flowers are generally fresher.
The Hamilton Avenue market also offers all kinds of artisanal food and snacks, from the PAN-o-RAMA Bakery’s croissants and breads, to Rocko’s Chocolate Tacos, which sells ice cream tacos made of waffle cone shells. At the Gourmet Crepes stand, by far the busiest, people waited in line for more than 20 minutes to eat their savory and fruit-filled crepes. While the crepes at the Hamilton Avenue market were good and conveniently located, they were neither as good-value nor quite as tasty as those served at the restaurants on University Avenue, just a block away.
At the California Avenue Farmers Market, there is even more prepared food available. The Indian food stand sells aromatic and spicy food, which is pricey but well worth it: $1 gets you a tasty samosa, an Indian snack food consisting of a spiced potato stuffed inside a fried outer shell. The samosas were crunchy enough on the outside, but not soft enough on the inside; they were also actually a bit oily and tasted inauthentic. At RawDaddy’s, you can purchase all sorts of foods in cones. Sweet flaxseed cones come with everything from pears and maple with yogurt (the Wilde for Pears Cone), to cheesecake topping and cookie crumble (the Lemon Macaroon Cheesecake Cone). On the more savory side, you can get savory flaxseed cones stuffed with daikon radish, cucumbers and wasabi (the Wakame Daddy Sushi Cone), and Thai salad. At the very least, it’s worth trying these out for the novelty, and it doesn’t hurt that these cones are so easy to carry with a bag of fruits and vegetables in the other hand.
The real treat of the California Avenue market is the produce and fruit stands, as well as the fantastic artisanal jams and cheeses. One fruit stand that stood out was from Happy Boy Farms, which seemed to have the best value for the available selection and quality of fruits. While this may be a seasonal thing, here’s a word of advice: The difference in quality at both markets from that of a regular supermarket was more noticeable for fruits like plums, pluots, nectarines and apples. Berries didn’t seem to be much better than the organic berries at the supermarket, even though they tasted great – perhaps not something to spend on if you’re sticking to a fixed budget.