Inspired by “Love Song to Costco” by Yuxi Lin.
Love Song to Haymarket
Haymarket has become my favorite Boston phenomena as of late. The open-air market opens at dawn on Fridays and Saturdays. The vendors are mostly immigrants, but the shoppers come from all walks of life–a hodgepodge of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, all trying to find the best deals.
Haymarket’s tradition of selling fresh, affordable produce in Boston dates back almost 300 years. Today, the vendors continue the centuries-old tradition of providing Bostonians with fresh produce at some of the lowest prices in New England. With over 40 independent vendors, historic pubs and restaurants, and ethnic groceries, you will never leave Haymarket disappointed.Haymarket History & Experience
The produce comes from the surpluses of wholesale markets. Think Imperfect Foods, but actually budget-friendly, more visually standard, and without the ~glam~ of Los Angeles influencers. There’s also the added fun of strategically determining what time to go. As one local guide states, “Friday you’ll have the best pick of produce, but Saturday you’ll get even better deals because they want to sell out. Even on Friday though, you can get really great deals.”
I can’t help but wonder why the Haymarket model hasn’t been implemented in many other large cities in the U.S. Instead, healthy food seems to be more expensive than ever. The latest health guru product is often processed, packaged, or powdered, when we could instead benefit from just eating more whole foods. (Just the other day, my neighbor gave away 30 servings of Beam Dream Powder. I couldn’t believe the price for the sleep supplement when I searched it up–$95. Of course, I had to snatch.)
My housemate has been a regular shopper for just under a year. A big part of it is the financial savings, another is the health. “It let’s me eat a lot of produce, even if I have to spend the extra effort being picker about it.” Her hack is to go through the entire market once before purchasing anything. Both prices and quality can differ between vendors, but she treats this fact not as a burden, but a game.
But a crucial reason she goes, like many others, is the experience. It’s a good time killer on a Saturday afternoon. Once, she overheard a lady talking to the vendor about how her and her husband drove two or three hours just to get there. Considering how expensive gas is, this lady and her husband must find some other value in Haymarket aside from the cheap produce.
Love Song to Christina’s Spice & Specialty Foods
Summer days in Cambridge can be unbearably hot and humid (coming from a Seattleite), the weather app blaring with warnings of high UV radiation: Use sun protection from 9-5pm. While staying inside is probably the best idea, my legs itch to explore the city. With an Asian mother who is obsessed with skincare, you can bet I have a thick layer of SPF 50+ PA+++ sunscreen on, a cap, and even an umbrella.
The back of my neck is damp with sweat as I enter my destination: Christina’s Spice and Specialty Foods. It’s the latest destination I’ve selected for my Google Maps treasure hunt. The first thing I see is a wall shelved from floor to ceiling, with at least five horizontal sections, filled with rows and rows of condiments. There are the recognizable ones—Huy Fong Sriracha, Kikkoman soy sauce, and Gold Plum chinkiang vinegar. The closer I look, the more I see. Truffle hot sauce. Wasabi powder. Kimchi paste. Habanero Maple Sriracha. Sliced lemongrass. I suddenly felt as bland as your average white American.
Behind me, there was more. The back wall had all kinds of spices and chilis—five or more times of cinnamon alone. To the right—various beans, grains, nuts and seeds (including pigeon pea, Swedish brown bean, and 16 bean soup mix). I didn’t know there could be so many types of sugar and salt. Oh, and the tea. I could drown in all the loose leaf blends. I could start my own bougie smoothie store with the bee pollen, butterfly pea flower, and pitted dates.
I only ended up getting a container of black cocoa powder. But I wanted more, even though I didn’t need them. It was the idea of those spices and condiments that I wanted more than actually consuming them. In Environmental Economics, we call this option value: a value we place on something even if there is little or no likelihood of ever using it. But I also crave the symbolic value of those spices—to be well-spiced is to be well-cultured. I want to be that girl who adds turmeric to her lentils and dried roses to her evening tea. I want to have cabinets brimming with a rainbow of mason jars and spice bottles, because those are the girls who have their shit together.
At home, our seasonings are haphazard. Old spice containers have new labels plastered over them with my mother’s Chinese handwriting. 五香粉: Five-spice powder (A Chinese classic). 胡椒粉: Pepper (We would only use white pepper until a few years ago). 孜然: Cumin (I had to search this one up on Google Translate). I laughed at the irony; my mother hated curry and other South Asian spices, and yet had an entire bottle of cumin within reach.
I’ve learned that cinnamon tastes good with everything and helps with controlling blood sugar. That garlic powder is a must-have to add an umami kick, but sometimes it just can’t replace the pungency I crave from biting into a raw clove. There’s such a thing as thirteen spice powder, and my mom uses it without knowing its ingredients (according to some ingredient labels: Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Cumin, Ginger, Angelica, Sichuan Peppercorn, Star Anise, Nutmeg, Galangal, White Pepper, Cloves, Licorice, Cardamom).
“Add a dash of dark soy sauce, another dash of light soy sauce.”
It was from vague Chinese recipes that my mom sends me, which lack detailed instructions on measurements, that I had learned that there were two kinds of soy sauces. Since then, I’ve been fascinated with the world of condiments, spices, and herbs. It’s the closest thing to magic we’ll get. As one of my favorite Food Youtubers once said:
Spices are pretty much like supplements in powder form. They are loaded with antioxidants and vitamins and minerals, in addition to making your food taste better, of course.Sadia Badiei, Pick Up Limes
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✨ Monthly Favorites
- Essay: “Love Song to Costco” by Yuxi Lin — “In the great halls of Costco, two of our greatest fears are assuaged — that of not having enough, and that of not being enough.”
- Short story: “Peking Duck” by Ling Ma — a touching piece about immigrant stories and who gets to tell them.
- Book: Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States by Seth Holmes — An intimate examination of the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants and indigenous people in our contemporary food system.
- TV Show: Stranger Things (I’m late on the trend, I know) — In 1980s Indiana, a group of young friends witness supernatural forces and secret government exploits. As they search for answers, the children unravel a series of extraordinary mysteries.