A few weeks ago I went on a spontaneous mini holiday to Switzerland. Like most leisure trips I go on- especially the last minute kind- I had almost nothing planned. I knew only two things- I would land in Zurich on Thursday night and on Friday morning at 9:00 sharp I’d meet Kerrin at the fountain near Market Bürkliplatz.
It was serendipitous meet-up that like-minded bloggers sometimes do.
Although I’d never met Kerrin before, I was acquainted with her blog, My Kugelhopf, where she shares her passion for food, travel and everything sweet. It wasn’t long before the confectioneries, bakeries and chocolatiers she often wrote about became a basis for the Sweet Zurich walking tour. Indeed, for many a virtual taste of the city was not enough. This evolved into an even bigger and sweeter business- as a professional chocolate taster and an organizer of Zurich’s Salon du Chocolat, one of the most prestigious chocolate conventions of the world. It’s a profession, like an ice cream flavor developer or whale watcher, that seems too good to be true. It’s not all about sweets. When she’s not testing a new brand of chocolate, she’s stocking her pantry with fresh, seasonal and locally produced foods at the outdoor market. That’s what we did Friday morning after I emailed “I’ll be in town, will you be around?”
Above left, radicchio, right, white asparagus
The first thing I noticed when I walked through the market was the quiet. Vendors were not trying to attract customers with boom box voices with calls of “parsley, coriander, basil…3 shekels a bundle”. Tomato price wars between competing sellers do not exist here, or at least not so obviously LOUD. The cheese seller didn’t whip out a megaphone to announce a special sale in Gruyère cheese, a technique occasionally used in outdoor markets in Israel. I imagine he would be arrested for disrupting the peace and quickly escorted out of the premises. Customers somehow find their own food without the prompting from the fellows behind the counters. It’s a bit like an al fresco supermarket, more subdued and relaxed, yet operated by a group of dedicated and knowledgeable professionals.
The market in Zurich felt so contained and tidy compared to the mayhem and buzz of Middle Eastern souks- a pleasant place for a promenade. In Israel, especially on Friday and before holidays when the shopping can be extreme the debris quickly accumulates. Vendors stack empty cartons by the side of their stalls. Often unsellable produce, either damaged or old, isn’t whisked away until the end of the day. It’s lively, messy and occasionally robustly aromatic as well, where being pushed and nudged is taken in stride. A visit to Zurich green market was the antithesis of what I was used to- pristine and attractively arranged- more a Disney World emulation than the real thing.
Perhaps I committed a cultural faux pas. Was I the only one eating as I strolled? I certainly didn’t see anyone lugging their market basket in one hand and munching on lye bread with the other. Well, except for me and Kerrin’s cute toddler, Chloé. Street food is a big part of the Israel outdoor market experience. At every corner there is another pita sandwich delight- falafel, shawarma, kebab, eggplant- or ice cream stores, bourekas stands and more. Eating just about anywhere is the norm in this region and it is perfectly acceptable to tackle even the messiest of sandwiches while on the run.
With the exception of a few European style markets such as Shuk Hanamal (The Port Market) in Tel Aviv, most produce is simply labeled. There’s eggplant or eggplant baladi, tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, pomegranates, the sour or sweet variety…and the list goes on, each item with a handwritten sign and price which the more savvy buyers can reduce with a bit of haggling. In Zurich the produce have names of aristocrats. Israel’s fruit and veggie nomenclature is rather more plebian- we have apples named after grannies not Musketeers. Kerrin told me that there are more than 20 apples varieties she can choose from, some locally grown and others from farther off.
Above: Wild and local honey
Yet in many ways, both markets are essentially the same. It is a colorful backdrop for business and a place to socialize, where the more formal customer-vendor relations can eventually meld into friendship. It is an outdoor museum, where new exhibitions happen continually with the seasons with the excitement and expectations that come with it.
And it is also a place where the most reserved sellers will offer gifts from their stands when met with a smile of a small child.
Above, left: Multicolored carrots, right rhubarb, bottom left, wild garlic, bottom right lye bread (Laugenbrötli)