Recently William and I visited Canino Produce, Houston’s largest farmer’s market, located on Airline drive off 610.
(See how this picture is hazy? That would be the camera lens trying to adjust from the 20 degree temperature difference between the car and the parking lot)
To call this a farmer’s market, is like calling Target a convenience store, it quite literally blew my mind, as in I had to step in and just stop for a minute to even take it all in. You know the produce trucks you see delivering produce to restaurants? Yeah, they are all loading up here. You know how on TV the chefs are out picking out local produce, yeah they are going here. How did I live here over a decade and not know about this place?
They have everything. Not just fruit and veggies but dried peppers of every kind. They have a whole wall of raw honey. Sacks of rice, bins of bulk spices, nuts, seeds, plants, you name it. Put simply, this is foodie mecca.
Do you ever scrounge through the bin at the grocery to find one decent avocado? Or pass up orange bell peppers because they cost $1 each? Do you ever reach for tomatoes only to swat away fruit flies? OK, imagine a place where everything is fresh, nearly every piece is perfect, flawless? And it is all about about 1/4 to 1/3 of the prices at the grocery store? THAT’s what I’m talking about!
We saw many other things besides just fresh food – we saw syrup for snow cones, brooms, baskets, and saints wrapped in plastic. But mostly it is all about the food. It is very NOT flea market-y. The most “like” something else I have been to would be the farmer’s market in Paris.
Can anyone else hear Jessica? I can just imagine her going, “Matt! Matt! Gas up the van!”
OK, so what do los gringos need to know before trying it out.
1. It’s in the hood. Relax, enjoy that groovy feel, lock up.
2. It is a major, working, distribution center for one of the biggest cities in the country, there are delivery trucks backing up and boxes piled up and dollies and people everywhere. This is not Kroger or even Fiesta. All that said, I would totally take my kids there.
2. Canino’s is the main store that is inside, anything you buy in there you pay for in there. In front and in back are tons of other vendor’s booths, which you can buy from and haggle with separately. You can’t use Canino’s grocery carts to go to outside vendors.
3. Bring cash, in small amounts, and don’t pull it all out in front of anyone. Not for safety, we felt totally safe there, it’s just that you cannot properly haggle with a $20 in your hand. I suggest making three or four sets of $2-4 and sticking them here and there in your pockets. If something is $5, pull out $4 and shrug & smile.
4. Many vendors are selling the same things, so walk through before committing to anything. I bought red peppers at one vendor and then saw better ones later.
5. If you gesture towards something, make sure that you pick the ones you want, the vendor will want to pick, and they won’t necessary pick to your advantage. (At the bell pepper stand I pointed at some pretty ones, the lady smiled and picked up two less nice ones from the bucket right next to it, I got smarter after that!) And no, they aren’t being underhanded, they are just rotating their stock!
6. Don’t assume people speak English or Spanish – there is no need to speak slowly or loudly, just focus on shopping! “Corn? Sweet or white? How much?, I’ll take it!” You are there to buy great food and they are there to sell it, if you keep that in mind it works fine. We had zero problems communicating with every vendor we shopped with.
7. Bring your own bags, especially produce bags because otherwise you wind up with a lot of plastic bags. You have to walk back through Canino’s to leave and you want anything you purchased out back to be wrapped up so there’s no confusion. In Canino’s itself you will unload your own basket and set each piece on the scale, you gotta’ use bags. Out back, point and the vendor will get it for you.
8. Have a basic idea of prices, 99% of what we saw was a really good deal, but a few things were not (ie strawberries were $3.79 a pint). Most of the jarred sauces along the wall were overpriced, (with the exception of a giant jar of banana peppers for $7!!! I pay $2.19 for just 16 ounces at HEB) So just know your stuff. Between the different vendors the prices are very competitive so don’t worry too much there, that’s the beauty of an open market place!
9. I didn’t see organic. So, if that’s your main deal, then this may not be the place for you. But if local, cheap, fresh, variety is your deal, then go and be happy. And then you will have extra dollars for organic something else, like chicken.
10. When you are done, go to the bakery across the street. They have pan dulce and coffee and tortillas and tres leches, and empanadas and yeah, you just have to do that part. We also spied a seafood market a little further down, but had stuff to do before going home so didn’t check it out. I would have liked to get shrimp though. Next time we will bring a cooler.
My beautiful haul:
Because I am a big dork I will list it out: 1 bunch green onions, 2 yellow bell pepper, 2 red bell peppers, 1 orange bell pepper, 2 pounds of green beans, 1 bunch asparagus, 10 limes, 3 vidalia onions, 1 lb red potatoes, 1 bunch cilantro, 5 ears of sweet corn, 2 lbs of mushrooms, 2 eggplant, 5 heads of garlic, 3 yellow squash, 8 roma tomatoes, 1 ginger root, 5 plums, 5 peaches, 3 poblanos and 1 gallon banana peppers (we likes our banana peppers!)…..$32.
$32 bucks – amazing!