WORDS BY CAI SEPULIS; PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘I still can’t believe that all this food is available at the Market,’ I exclaim to my TOQUE Partner, Chris, as I stare down atthe spread laid out in front of us. Samosas. Dolmas. Hummus. Cubanos. Cannolis. And more. Chris and I are seated in the back of the Mercedes Sprinter that my wife, Sonia, and I acquired and converted into a veritable mobile home at the beginning of COVID. ‘To traverse North America,’ I’d told her (to justify the purchase) when I’d won the auction for this massive vehicle. After all, converted vans and RVs made (and continue to make) perfect sense during this pandemic era – as mobile headquarters for outdoor adventures like biking, camping, and skiing: places to eat, sleep, change out of sweaty clothes, and safely store gear.
And to visit the St Jacobs Farmers’ Market, too – which is what Chris and I are up toon this busy market Thursday in June. The Market was once best known for Old Order Mennonite fare – butchered meats, summer sausage, fresh eggs, and local produce. But there’s so much more. And we’re here to prove it by assembling the ultimate picnic made up of the vast range of foods from the diverse ethnic communities whose market merchandise foregrounds food items we might encounter now and then, but that oftentimes fly under the radar.
I’ve always loved farmers’ markets. Indeed, I fondly remember going to the St. Jacobs Market as a little kid with my mom and brothers. It was always a weekly highlight – especially during the summer months when the outdoor stalls seemed bursting with fresh colourful produce and we would come home with bags brimming with tomatoes, cucumbers (for pickling), fresh herbs, berries, pepperettes, and, of course, apple fritters. And while the Market continues to feature those same conventional stalls with their seasonal delights, today we walk straight past them and line up at the Main Building to begin our quest.
Inside is just as I remember it: massive wood beams supporting the two-storey building (and also Darryl Sittler’s retired number banner that used to hang from the rafters at old Maple Leaf Gardens), open stalls lining the outer and inner walls, and the smell of fresh meats, produce, and timber. We begin to scour the place for what we’re after, stopping at La Casbah (Moroccan) for mahajeb, Chorizos La Abuela (Mexican) for churros, and Almadina (Middle Eastern) for hummus and samosas. ‘Whatever else we do,’ Chris insists, ‘we have to get the hummus from here.’ Creamy. Garlicy. Without peer. We buy two large containers and keep it moving.
Arriving at Holy Cannoli, I exclaim: ‘Oh, I know this place.’ Chris’ attention is piqued. ‘They’re based in Toronto,’ I continue, ‘and we used to buy their cannolis all the time. It’s so cool that they’re here now too.’ We order a handful of vanilla, cappuccino, and cookies and cream cannolis, and watch as the vendor fills them right before our eyes. Then, seeing my arms overflowing with boxes and bags (and Chris busy taking photos), the man filling our cannolis asks if he can give us something to carry our ever-growing array of wares. Embarrassed that I’ve arrived so unprepared (COVID absent-mindedness and all that), I gratefully accept one of his insulated fabric bags. ‘Don’t worry,’ he says with a smile, ‘it’s on the house.’
I sure have missed this place, I think to myself.
Chris and I make our way from the Main Building to Peddlers’ Village – the market building that was destroyed by fire back in 2016. Just inside, we arrive at Taste of Greece and Chris sprints up to order a pita. ‘Do we each want one?,’ he asks.
I raise an eyebrow, gesturing towards my newly- acquired bag, packed to the brim. ‘Ya, you’re right,’ he laughs. ‘One’s enough to share.’ While Chris waits for our order to come up, my roving eye spots something irresistible down the way: A Portuguesa Bakery. I sneak off and return with a half dozen tarts. ‘Okay,’ I tell him, ‘now I think we’re done.’
We meander back to the Sprinter past the outdoor stalls of gleaming fresh produce and bountiful greens and blooms. We are about to begin to eat the smorgasbord we’ve set out in front of us when I remember the van cooler, and pull out a ‘Crystal Park Pilsner’ and an ‘Iron Horse Trail IPA’ from Stockyard Brewing Company. The brewery (formerly Red Circle Brewing Company – a brand that TOQUE helped create and has sadly had to see retire) expects to open a large brewhouse in the Market in the near future and their Stockyard identity is a nod to their new home.
Chris and I raise our cans – to each other, and to the extraordinary feast laid out in front of us – and dig in. After a few mouthfuls Chris declares our little Thursday adventure as ‘pretty spectacular.’ And indeed it is. Market food. Fresh beer. My mobile home that doubles as an offbeat dining room – with sightlines to the Market’s bustle and charm. I reach for a mahajeb, dip it in that most incredible hummus, and take a bite. ‘I can’t even decide what I like best,’ I remark. ‘It’s all so good.’ Chris – his mouth full of dolma – doesn’t seem to hear me. He’s in his own little heaven.
Indeed, van life and farmers’ markets are the perfect pairing. As is fresh beer and Market wares. Here – at The St Jacobs Farmers’ Market.
ST. JACOBS FARMERS’ MARKET
878 WEBER ST N, WATERLOO