Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Food court imminent?

Mark Bittman wants (link!) an indoor food market to go where the Fulton Fish Market once was. Not that this would much benefit me at this point, but I'm all for it. Remember how I was just recently raving about one of these in suburban Philadelphia? It's not exactly that NY doesn't have one - between Bittman and the commenters, we're reminded of the Essex Street Market, Chelsea Market, Eataly, and Arthur Ave. in the Bronx. But nothing spectacular. If there were a giant indoor market with high-quality produce and hipsters-make-your-food deliciousness, I'd be there in no time. So, this has the WWPD seal of approval. With certain caveats:

-What would the market sell? Would the whole local-only ethos be sustained (as with the highly-regulated Greenmarkets) or would the "market" concept get diluted? Bittman's vague on this. But the local thing really is what makes a New York City market different from one elsewhere, so you get New Yorkers assuming markets elsewhere sell locally-produced food. Not so! You know those markets in Paris that lead tourists to think the French know what good food is? They sell some local food, but barely. Are there enough local farms and artisanally-minded new-Brooklyn liberal-arts grads to fill some giant space in lower Manhattan? Or would this be supermarket produce, artfully arranged? In which case, why not advocate for policy that would improve the overall quality of city supermarkets?

-And yes, it matters not just that there is a food market, but also what it sells. The Reading Terminal Market is indeed big, but the food itself, from what I experienced, wasn't so hot. I had one of the worst slices of pizza of my life, and walked by tub after tub of various Amish gelatinous desserts, which for all I know are delicious, but yes, I'm skeptical. (Nothing personal against the Amish - my own ethnic cuisine produces similarly appetizing tubs, about which I'm equally enthusiastic.) It seems a stretch to claim, as Bittman does, that that market is the "grandest" in the region.

-Everything New York and food-related ends up swarmed with individuals not there to buy groceries. Photographers - smartphone and mega-camera alike - take up much of the prime real estate in Greenmarket stalls, and those who wish to actually, like, purchase ingredients have to wait their turn. Tourists love visiting food markets - Chelsea Market and Eataly especially - but the scale of NY, along with the number of tourists it gets, makes it such that between you and that bunch of chard are fifty enthusiastic European visitors, because it's some obscure Christian holiday and they all have the week off.

And I don't at all fault tourists for wanting to visit food markets. It's fun! And cheap! My point is that crowds of non-shoppers need to be taken into account. Either they don't buy anything, or what they want are prepared foods, which New Yorkers don't really need an indoor market to purchase. (See: takeout.) So it might also be worth looking into ways of selling high-quality food that are maybe not so photogenic. A shiny new waterfront market in what's already not a residential area (and such a short walk from the immensely popular tourist destination that is Ground Zero!) risks being a place to photograph food, and not purchase it.

1 comment:

Petey said...

So, if I'm reading your recent blog posts correctly, you are saying that a decent NYC indoor food market might induce you to make your initial trip to our fair city? (And if so, all to the good. You should visit NYC at least once in your life...)


BTW, while I like Mitsuwa for the supermarket, the little shops, and the appliance section, most of the (non-Japanese) folks who go there seem to be solely attracted by the insanely incredible indoor food court.