The highlight of my weekends here in Illinois, similar to my weekends in Ukraine, consist of a trip to the market. In Ukraine the market is called a “bazaar” or “rinok” and here we call them “farmers’ markets”, but they’re basically the same idea — fresh local food.
Now that I’m back in Illinois, I feel so lucky to have experienced the magic that is the Ukrainian bazaar as part of my weekly regiment. It taught me what was in-season, when produce peaks, how to eat seasonally, and just how important it is to eat fresh and local. Fortunately for me, I moved from the bread basket of Europe back to the fertile grounds of the Midwest where farmers’ markets sprout weekly in the suburbs.
U.S. farmers’ markets, however wonderful, pale in comparison to Ukrainian bazaars, the bountiful pyramid shaped displays of fresh produce still caked in dirt, with old women shouting prices and professing to you how beautiful her petrushka or morkva looks. They are out selling produce almost every day, in every season — no matter the weather, it’s incredible. In-season produce of Ukraine was CHEAP — fresh, local, and cheap — couldn’t get any better than that!
Local farmers’ markets now seem foreign to me, even though they’re ironically where my local eating education began — between those aisles of white tents with no haggling allowed. But after living in Ukraine it’s all very different. The markets aren’t filled with little old ladies that, hunched back, dug up those carrots herself, but mostly families and farmers that drive down from Michigan or Central/Southern Illinois.
Since my return most farmers’ market visits are spent thinking — everything is so…so…clean. Where’s the dirt? Why are those carrots and beets so small? You’re charging how much for potatoes?!? It has been strange to realize that no public transportation to the market is needed and I don’t have to worry about carrying it all back since we just drive. Most bazaar trips in Ukraine would take up half a day and leave me with sore shoulders wishing that I didn’t eat an apple a day and that potatoes could somehow miraculously be lightweight.
I often forget I can’t order things in Ukrainian or Russian or by the kilogram. I got some pretty weird looks when I tried to order some salad in grams at the Whole Foods deli. I tried to make-up for my honest mistake by switching to ounces and then ultimately admitting I forgot the U.S. doesn’t use metric so “just give me that small plastic container, yea that one”. The workers timidly handed me my container of salad, probably looking for some white remnants around my nose or needle marks, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I figured it was easier for them to assume whatever they did than explaining (in what I imagine would come out with a cowboy accent) “I’m not from arrrrround heeeeeere!”. Maybe I’d go on to say there’s a snake in my boot and then quickly leave the premises….I wish that’s how it went. But I’m probably just known as that weird “grams girl”. I might go back and try to order in grams again, just to see what they do, maybe even add a little bit of Tyrone Biggums reenactment in too.
Anyways, enough of terrorizing the Whole Foods deli workers. In a few weeks I’ll be moving to Iowa City to begin my MFA in Book Arts at the University of Iowa. My mom and I made our first trip (ever!) out to the campus and moved some things into my apartment (aka spent hours assembling Ikea furniture). It was so nice to see where I’ll be spending the next three years of my life….which is super weird to think…three years, in once place!
Prior to making my campus visit, everyone I met told me I’d just love Iowa City. And they were right, well what I saw of it I did love — loads of trees and grass, historic homes with wrap around porches, ridiculously friendly people, bike paths galore, and a river running through it. To my surprise it’s much hillier than I expected (with a HUGE hill right by my apartment, yeeea that’ll be fun to bike and run). My apartment is a lovely old building with hardwood floors (a dream come true!), a shower with hot water, a toilet that’s attached to the floor, and no (apparent) holes in the walls for slugs and toads. I really have such high living standards now. But really, it’s a cute place and gets tons of light, unlike my current abode, which means (drumroll please) — the perfect set up for food photography!!! Yes, this is how my brain works.
My future flatmate and fellow Illinoisian (whom I found via Craigslist while I was in Ukraine), informed me of the best news ever — Iowa City has farmers’ markets, two times a week. TWO TIMES! Now my weekend highlight can also be my mid-week highlight and I can keep on eatin’ fresh and reliving my bazaar moments (not bizarre moments, though I have plenty of those too).
I will most likely forever miss the bazaars of Ukraine, but I am still thankful for any amount of fresh local eating I can be a part of, thanks Iowa City! I have a feeling we’ll become good friends.