As much as I love the markets in Asia, to be honest, sometimes (particularly in China) you just don’t know what you’re getting at some of these places. As you may well have heard, food in China is notorious for its questionable quality — from exploding watermelon to glow-in-the-dark meat, and much (much) more. I’m afraid I’ve grown rather paranoid since being here. One time, I was washing greens and discovered in horror that the water I was using was turning fluorescent green! Let me tell you, I have never been so conscious about where my food comes from as I have living in Beijing. I’m grateful that there’s enough of an expat community here for there to be some organic options available. And, yes, “organic” can be a loose term in China, but there are a number of people here who really believe in the organic movement and do good work, and we try to find out as much as we can about the places we get our food from. (There are also those who believe that “organic” simply is not possible in a place like China, but I try not to dwell too much on that while I’m living here.)

Given all this, you can imagine my relief when I went back to Portland last month. See, Portland is just about as opposite as you can get from China. And, as I mentioned in my previous post, sometimes it can be a bit of a culture shock even for folks coming from other parts of the US. As a whole, the city is just so enthusiastic about being environmentally friendly, sustainable, local, organic, and just all-around keeping it real, almost to a fault. They even have their own version of Whole Foods — a local, privately owned chain in the area called New Seasons.

Ironically, because fresh, clean food is available widely throughout Portland, I haven’t really made a special effort to go to a farmer’s market there before. But one day on our recent visit, after we dropped our toddler off at my mother-in-law’s, my husband and I were setting out for a morning of errands when my brother-in-law called and casually mentioned that he was at the farmer’s market. Well, we promptly cancelled all plans, and within half an hour, we’d arrived at the farmer’s market, where my brother-in-law greeted us with food already in hand — something he was referring to as the “Paleo Plate” — but let me get to that later…

First, I have to say I was so happy to see so much organic, clean, fresh food, I almost felt healthier just being surrounded by it. It’s funny because we often think of going to markets in other countries to see exotic ingredients, but I had almost the same feeling at the Portland Farmers’ Market. For example, I’ve only seen lacinato kale (or “dinosaur kale” — the dark green fronds pictured in the lower left above) on blogs. And I’ve never seen these little mini pumpkins on branches before at all (pictured below).

It’d also been a while since I’d seen things like romanesco (below) or golden or spiral beets. In fact, I ended up buying a variety of these vegetables to make for several dinners I was helping my parents to host later in the week.

Even better than bringing fresh produce home, though, was getting to eat right at the market. The Saturday market, if I’m not mistaken, is the largest of the farmers’ markets, and there are plenty of vendors throughout to get full meals from. A lot of these vendors also have stores or restaurants in the city, some of which I had been wanting to visit, so it really was great to be able to find them all in one place here.

We bought some salami from Chop, one of which we actually brought back to Beijing with us. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized the package indicated that they don’t use nitrates in their salami (I love Portland artisans!). We also sampled some mushroom miso soup at the Springwater Farm stand, which was perfect on a chilly fall day.

I couldn’t help trying some sausage gravy and biscuits at the Pine State Biscuits stand. I don’t even like biscuits, but I’d heard so many good things about them that I had to sample it myself, and I can definitely say these fluffy, rich biscuits are likely the only ones I’ve ever loved. Below, too, you’ll see samples of Dave’s Killer Bread, which my good friend Chau had tipped me off on early in my trip. She said it’s so good she got her dad addicted to it when he was in town, and now she has to supply him with shipments to Arizona every so often. :) Their bread is organic, whole grain, and utterly delicious.

And, finally, I have saved the best for last here, because even though they were the first stand we saw, they were also the last (it was so good we went back again :). This is Verde Cocina, where they hand-make their tortillas…

… grill their meat and veggies in such a fashion as to look like they’re inviting everyone to a picnic right there at the market…

… and serve up this most incredible dish that they call, yes, the “Paleo Plate” — a vibrant mix of grilled vegetables served alongside thick fat slabs of crispy salty sweet bacon. This was the dish my brother-in-law called the best thing there, and he did not steer us wrong.

To top off our cultural experience in Portland, I have to mention how my brother-in-law also happened to run into a local Portland friend of his at the market — someone who actually has no phone or email (and thus can only be run into, not met), and was carrying all of his possessions in the mid-size backpack he had on. Just as he was explaining to us how a phone prevents you from being truly present when you are with people, our cell phone promptly rang (it was my parents, but we couldn’t take the call in good conscience at that point). It was, you know, just another average encounter in Portland! This friend, too, remarked on how my husband was carrying around beets that we had just bought inside his coat (this was partly to free up his hands for eating :) [edit: and also because they’ve banned plastic bags with handles!], and he took this opportunity to explain Portland to us. See, he said, it wouldn’t be surprising if people thought you were really onto something there, and then next week you see several people carrying their groceries around in their coats like that, and then before you know, it shows up on Portlandia!

So — there’s Portland for you.

“Now wasn’t that so much more fun than running errands?” my brother-in-law asks. :)