One of the best things about going to culinary school in New York, or just living in New York, is the Union Square Greenmarkt. Much has been written about this urban farmer's market – it's not one of the many hidden culinary gems that food writers in this city are always uncovering. But it is a marvel, even to a regular patron like myself.
If you're a culinary student in NYC, chances are you're probably under the financial strain of tuition and too cooked-out from class to make meals at home. Still, the Greenmarket is worth a weekly venture for any aspiring cook. First, it gives you a sense of what produce is in season. If you're going to be a chef, it's essential to know what fruit, vegetable or herb is just in, what's at its prime, what's on the way out. Even if you're not making purchases, it's good to do the homework and practice for the future.
Besides a general knowledge of seasonal produce, the Greenmarket is a great way to discover new things. I'm a culinary bookworm- I read cookbooks, magazines, study menus. Still, I'm frequently surprised to find an entirely new vegetable, fruit or homemade product. Just yesterday I encountered Mexican Sour Gherkins for the first time at Windfall Farms. The size of a robin's egg with the appearance of a miniature watermelon, I purchased a few out of curiosity. The taste was something like a bitter cucumber, crunchier and tangier than the familiar gourd. Such discoveries are important to both chefs and writers. Unfortunately an article in New York Magazine beat me to the punch with Mexican Gherkins, but I'm sure there will be more exotic produce to cover.
And finally, there are celebrity sightings. I've never seen Brangelina purchasing vegan pastries, but Union Square Greenmarket is rife with culinary celebrities. I spotted Dan Barber of Blue Hill one Saturday afternoon, and Jeffrey Steingarten walking out with an armful of shopping bags. It's fun to see the people at the forefront of the American culinary scene, and know that they're browsing the same products you are.
Perhaps it's coming from cities with lesser farmer's markets that inspires awe whenever I emerge from the subway station into the bustle of merchants and buyers, chefs, cheese makers, vintners, seafood mongers, produce farmers, pasta maidens and everything in between. Unlike others, Union Square is large, bountiful, diverse and never seems to run out of even the most sought-after items. In this light, it's much like NYC itself.
For current info on the Greenmarket, check out this website.