Produce at Pike Place Market is a free feast for the eyes, but many vendors let customers take a taste as well — hoping that the samples will encourage a purchase. Visit our Pike Place Photo Gallery
. Photos by Nick Onken and Luke Rutan.
Pike Place: Overload Those Senses!
Visiting Pike Place Market is like entering a collage or mosaic
Italian music spills over from an eatery, mingling with a lamenting cello and the squawk of seagulls. Thousands of colors pop from fruit stands, flower shops, hanging baskets, and artwork. Smells change with steps. The complex odor of Vietnamese food morphs into the sweet scent of lilies, followed by the salty smell of fresh fish.
Dating back to August 17, 1907, Pike Place Market
celebrated its centennial this summer. It’s the oldest public farmer’s market in the country and boasts 190 businesses, 50 restaurants, 200 table spaces, and 9 million visitors each year.
A steady mix of people pulse through the Market’s core, thickening at the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market. A crowd member whispers an order to “The Bear,” a stout man with orange latex coveralls, coarse brown hair, and a gravelly bass voice.
“Sockeye,” bellows The Bear, tossing a 2-foot long fish into the belly of the Fish Market. “Sockeye,” echo five men, as one expertly cradles the fish in a fresh sheet of waxed paper. The crowd “ooohs” and cheers.
BeckyJo Ambroso, who graduated from Seattle Pacific University this past spring, remembers the first time she visited Pike Place Market, about three years ago. The native of Chicago was invited to stand within the Fish Market as fish sped above her head.
“You could feel wind from the fish as they flew,” Ambroso says.
The fish filleters and preparers are separated from the crowd by their ice-packed merchandise. Dungeness crabs stand in attention with their pinchers up; salmons lay flat in lines; and oysters and other shellfish huddle in their respective groups. Adventurous crawfish escape from their barrel and creep on the floor.
Fishmonger Jeff Kirkpatrick reaches down from his place inside the Fish Market, scoops up a wandering crawfish, and tosses him back over the ice to rejoin his kind.
The crowd often flinches and gasps as fish or other creatures speed toward the onlookers. Kirkpatrick has worked at the market for four years and has seen fear and surprise cause adults to cry and a grown woman to wet her pants. “What’s unique here is you get so many reactions that you don’t know what to expect,” he says.
The entire Pike Place Market follows the same theme of novelty. Food vendors sell a vast array of produce from artichokes as big as a child’s head to pluots — a cross between a plum and an apricot. Entrées, art, and music originate from a variety of countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, and Germany.
“The first time I went to Pike Place was sensory-overload,” Ambroso says. “I was really impressed with the culture, colors, and energy.” Ambroso has now visited the Market at least 20 times and is familiar with its mishmash of arts, food, and entertainment. “My favorite thing to do is find the specific parts of the Market that I love. I have my favorite artist, and my favorite café to go to,” she says. “It’s not like I’m going as a tourist anymore.”
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