“Buck a bag!” “Dollah a pound!” These are the sounds you’ll hear if you’re in Boston’s Haymarket, one of the country’s oldest open air markets and one of the city’s most fun and colorful traditions. Vendors officially started selling produce, fish, meat and dairy in the early 1800’s setting up their carts on Blackstone Street next to Faneuil Hall. It is also located near the Freedom Trail and many other attractions such as the North End and TD Garden.
During the Big Dig, (and who can’t forget about the Big Dig?) many people thought the glory days of Boston’s Haymarket were over. And they almost were. The lowering of the highway artery caused heavy traffic with construction dust and debris falling within just a few feet of the produce stands causing business to decline. But the Dig is done, and now, 8 years after the construction ended, Boston’s Haymarket is thriving!
Depending on the severity of the weather, and it usually takes a huge nor’easter or hurricane to close Haymarket, vendors set up their tables early in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays and don’t close up shop until around 6 pm. Approximately two thirds of the Haymarket vendors are from the nearby Italian North End. Many of the fruit and vegetable stands have been run by the same families for several generations, the patriarch or matriarch having emigrated from Europe. Fairly new to the ethnic mix are vendors from Southeast Asia, North Africa, and the Caribbean expanding the variety of produce, spices and meats that are available. The vendor’s can be a little acerbic and pushy and sometimes even a bit intimidating, but this totally adds to the charm of the experience. Strike up a conversation with “How ‘bout those Red Sox,” and you might get a grin and an extra apple thrown into your bag.
Boston’s Haymarket vendors sell a variety of goods ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to cheeses and meat. Their prices are notoriously cheap because all the food comes from wholesale markets across the river in Chelsea that need to get rid of their inventory. This means that the food is already ripe, so it only lasts a few days. To college students and working people alike, the short life of the produce does not matter because it is such a great bargain. And of course you can make lots of sauces and freeze most of the fruits and vegetables for future use.
The Haymarket community is rich in history and tradition and located in one of the greatest cities in the world. This open air market with incredible prices and produce (where else can you find 12 kiwis for a dollar?) will continue to serve the city’s diverse ethnic groups, locals and tourists in Boston for a number of years to come.
For the Haymarket newbie, here are some tips to help you enjoy your shopping experience:
- Arrive early for best selection, or late for better prices.
- If you’re driving, especially coming in from the suburbs, the cheapest parking garage is Parcel 7 Garage (entrance on Sudbury St.) $3 for up to 3 hours parking WITH validation (Haymarket vendors will validate). But regular rates apply over 3 hours.
- Cash only! Bring lots of single bills.
- Bring your own tote bag or backpack – fruits and veggies can get heavy.
- Don’t squeeze the produce! You might hear some colorful language.
- Experiment with different recipes using your Haymarket purchases.
- Bon Appetite!
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