Strolling through the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar is always a feast for the senses, but never more so than on opening day, 2021. After so much isolation and monotony, the sounds of fiddlers and vendors, the aroma of popcorn and pit beef, the vibrant colors of the artisans’ wares — felt practically psychedelic to me last Sunday. I ate and drank as much as I could fit in my tote bags, all in the name of journalism. Here are some recommendations.
Check out the market Sunday mornings from 7 a.m. to noon beneath the Jones Falls Expressway at Holliday and Saratoga streets. Runs through Dec. 26.
Popcorn from Delmarva Popcorn & Nut Co.
The smell alone is enough to sell me on the kettle corn from Delaware-based DelMarVa Popcorn, sweet and smoky and fresh. Manager Mark Peña chats up customers while a huge kettle of corn pops behind him. ”It’s just a big wok is all it is,” Peña said. The Chicago native, who’s slung popcorn since the 1970s, says stands are more popular in the Windy City, a tradition that dates back to the 1893 World’s Fair.
It’s been a rough year for Peña’s business; they shut down their brick and mortar shop amid a steep decline in customers and cancellation of farmers markets. “With no need to make popcorn … we just couldn’t afford to stay open,” Peña said. Which makes the JFX one of the few places you can buy the company’s delicious popcorn these days. They also sell at the Fells Point market on Saturdays and at the new B&O Railroad Museum markets on Thursday.
I picked up a big $3 bag of kettle corn; light and crunchy, it’s that addictive blend of sweet and salty to transport you to the boardwalk, or to the 1893 World’s Fair.
Mixers from Cane Collective
One of the best parts of the farmers markets is getting introduced to new businesses. The city’s farmers markets can be a bellwether of Baltimore’s Next Big Thing; so many beloved eateries (Ekiben, the Urban Oyster and Atwater’s, just to name a few) got their start from a humble market stall. Sunday was my first introduction to Cane Collective, which sells nonalcoholic mixers that can pair with everything from soda water to gin. I snagged a big bottle of their Blood Orange Southside mixer ($20), a well-balanced blend of blood orange, kumquat, coriander and mint.
Essentials at Neopol Smokery
The stand from Barbara Lahnstein and her son, Dorian Brown, (they also have a popular stall at Belvedere Square) specializes in all things smoked, from fish to garlic to cheese and dips. Want to be the hero of your next backyard gathering? Grab a mixer from Cane Collective and some of the good, smoky hummus from Neopol ($5.50). Like baba ganoush, it has a fiery flavor that will keep you coming back for more.
Lake trout from the Konscious Foodie
The market combines an constant appetite for change and innovation with a firm grasp of tradition. Which is why it’s wonderful to see Washington’s Malikah Carpenter, who has taken over running her dad’s fish stand. He’s still on hand, of course, calling on market-goers to try their foods. Not that anyone needs much enticing. The stand can get long lines on market days, and it’s easy to see why. Their take on lake trout, Baltimore’s classic if misnamed food, is a knockout. Huge portions of crispy, lemony fish on bread with a sweet slaw on top make for a filling yet refreshing meal ($13).
Mango and sticky rice from Thai Heaven
Chai Prachayanukul is no stranger to the Baltimore Farmers’ Market and Bazaar: He and his wife, owners of Catonsville’s Thai Heaven, have been coming for nearly a decade, bringing with them a sweet and surprisingly dairy-free treat from the streets of Bangkok to Baltimore. Amateur mango slicers like me will be impressed by their skill at peeling the yellow fruits on-site. Juicy, fragrant slices of fruit sit on sweet gobs of glutinous rice, drizzled with coconut sauce and sprinkle of toasted mung beans for that extra crunch ($6).