I have a confession to make: Until Saturday, I had never visited the Ithaca Farmers Market. Shameful, I know, especially for someone as obsessed with food as I am. Prior to my visit, the Ithaca Farmers Market had been nothing more than a myth to me: a bustling outdoor market full of students and local hippies alike, featuring the finest and freshest homegrown ingredients, snacks and meals, not to mention the multiple vendors of arts and crafts. From what I had heard, frankly, I just never understood the fuss made over the market and why it was so adored. Farmers markets are all over the place; what makes this one so special? Journeying to the Ithaca Farmers Market is even on the list of the 161 things every Cornellian must do. Every person who asked me if I had made the trek to the market, and to which I replied “No,” returned with looks of shock and amazement. But alas, my entire freshman year and first semester of sophomore year flew by, and I still had never attempted to visit the coveted destination.
This past weekend, however, my Ithaca Farmers Market-less streak was reversed when my friend and her parents offered to give me a ride to the elusive location. I was finally on my way, and despite hearing so much about it, I still did not know what to expect. When we arrived and stepped inside the pavillion, the praise I had heard from so many people was confirmed: I had missed out on this place for far too long. As soon as we stepped under the roof, I was taken aback by the market’s charm and quickly realized why everyone speaks so highly of it. To my right was a baked goods vendor complete with a massive brick stone oven, neighboring a dim sum station. To my left, a local chutney vendor offering jars of the oddest but most delicious combinations of flavors; who knew that mustard-mango jam could be so tasty? And look over there, a local bluegrass band jamming to the delight of the shoppers and spectators. I was sold after seeing for myself what everyone had told me.
Perusing the seemingly endless path of vendors selling homemade jewelry, beautiful plants and bouquets, freshly baked goods and exotic cuisines, we settled on the much talked-about Khmer Angkor Cambodian food station. Spicy and hearty Cambodian cuisine is certainly an unconventional breakfast choice, but we just could not resist peanut-sprinkled egg pancakes filled with rice noodles, chicken, bamboo shoots and mango topped with a smoky peanut sauce or a crunchy, deep-fried vegetable cake. It wasn’t exactly the typical morning cup o’ Joe and buttered toast, but it was a refreshing change from usual breakfast fare that whisked our taste buds away to a faraway land from the comfort of a picnic bench alongside Cayuga Lake.
Our hunger satisfied and our taste buds jolted awake, we made our way back inside and browsed the multitudes of vendors, mesmerized by the offerings of local goods and lovely handmade trinkets. When we came upon the Chutney Fever station, we couldn’t help but sample some of the chutneys, no matter how full we were from our Cambodian feast. From the tart date-cranberry chutney to the intriguing curried banana chutney, we were overwhelmed by the explosion of tanginess each jar had to offer. We continued our quest for sweet treats when we came upon the Just Desserts station with heaps of baked goods, fresh loaves of bread and a wood fired oven that baked cheesy flatbread pizza to order. We treated ourselves to rich hazelnut-espresso brownies and vegan rosemary olive bread that both made the perfect rainy afternoon snacks. We just had to make another stop before our departure from the market to share a warm and crispy flatbread pizza that oozed with fresh mozzarella and basil. To make my first Ithaca Farmers Market excursion complete, my friend and I ventured to the Littletree Orchards station, which served all things fruity and sweet: cider doughnuts, fruit butter, flowers and, our choice, hot apple cider. The toasty little cups of the fresh, sugary cider warmed us right up on a chilly and wet afternoon.
Clearly, I have been won over by the charm and overall deliciousness of the Ithaca Farmers Market, and I can now undoubtedly call myself a fan. But there’s something else about the market that my friends and classmates failed to describe to me, perhaps because it is simply indescribable. From what I witnessed on Saturday, the Ithaca Farmers Market isn’t just a gathering spot for local vendors to sell their homegrown goods to fellow foodies and college students; it’s a place that attracts people from Ithaca and the surrounding area, uniting us all under our shared love for food and togetherness. The Ithaca Farmers Market brings us all together under one roof to share an experience that could only happen in a place like Ithaca. And that’s really what food is all about, isn’t it?