Haymarket, Boston's centuries-old open air market, offers you the best deals on fresh produce in the historic heart of the city, just steps away from Faneuil Hall Marketplace and the elegant Millennium Bostonian Hotel.
Sellers of fresh produce have clustered in Haymarket since around 1830, although vendors started congregating here at least 100 years earlier.
Around the corner from Haymarket, you'll find a few of Boston's most historic pubs and restaurants dating from about the same period, and across the Greenway is the North End, where Paul Revere once lived.
Of course, you're also surrounded by present-day city skyscrapers, traffic, and trendy shops - but if you want to get a taste of "old" Boston plus the biggest produce bargains in town, Haymarket is the perfect place to begin.
Before you rush over to Haymarket to load up on fruits and veggies, you should note:
Haymarket Boston hours:
Haymarket vendors sell huge varieties of fruits and vegetables at rock-bottom prices from open wooden stands and pushcarts. Specialty grocers selling cheese, fish, Halal meats, spices, and other goodies from small shops can be found in an adjacent building.
Join the crowds of eager buyers searching for the best food deals in Boston - and get set for fun and bargains!
More attractions near Haymarket:
Perhaps two thirds of the Haymarket vendors are from Boston's Italian North End. Some of the fruit and vegetable stands have been operated by the same families for several generations.
Relative newcomers from Asia, North Africa, and the Caribbean run others, expanding the rich variety of produce that you'll find here.
Customers represent diverse groups as well.
A long time favorite of immigrants and frugal Yankees, Haymarket draws thrifty deal-seekers from all over the city and surrounding areas, restaurateurs, and bargain-seeking graduate students.
All of us flock around the tented stalls, snapping up bargains, thrilled by the cheap prices.
And of course it doesn't hurt that Haymarket is right in the middle of one of Boston's most interesting and historical areas.
No, not at all.
Despite Haymarket's location right around the corner from Quincy Market and other Boston historic sites along the Freedom Trail, relatively few tourists come here. After all, most visitors don't come here to buy large quantities of produce.
Lots of Boston tourism guidebooks first highlighted Haymarket as a historic market, worth strolling by to see as a sort of novelty. Then, when the decade-plus duration of Boston's "Big Dig" highway-lowering project brought construction rubble within feet of the market, the same guidebooks declared Haymarket dead - and it's true, it did almost dwindle away during that period.
But those days are over. The Big Dig is done, and Haymarket is bigger and better than ever. The crowds of mostly Boston locals, including students, seem to grow each week.
I do usually see a few Boston visitors on the sidelines taking photos and buying the occasional plum or banana. They always seem thrilled to have discovered this lively, colorful bazaar slightly off the usual tourist path.
And they should be. Haymarket is one of Boston's special places . . . a link with the distant past, but still going strong today. If you love exploring local street markets when you travel, you'll want to come here.
As for the produce, the variety is amazing.
You'll find everything you could possibly want - peppers, bananas, mangoes, onions, berries - all the typical fruits and veggies that you'd find in the local supermarkets, plus lots of Asian and Caribbean favorites.
Vendors typically price their produce way below what you'd pay in a store - and toward the end of the day, you can sometimes bargain to pay even less.
How can Haymarket's produce be so cheap?
Actually, the reason is pretty simple. Vendors typically buy their goods from Boston's wholesale markets in Chelsea across the Charles River on Thursday and Friday nights. They pay very low prices because the wholesalers need to clear out their warehouses to make way for new shipments arriving during the weekend.
Yes, much of the Haymarket produce is what the wholesalers haven't been able to sell during the week to the city's supermarkets. This means that it is usually ripe - and occasionally a bit past its prime.
If you want the freshest fruits and vegetables picked just hours earlier, don't come to Haymarket. Boston has some wonderful farmers markets - but Haymarket is emphatically not a farmers market.
And for the most part, the produce is what you'd find in an average supermarket - not necessarily local, not fresh off the vine, and probably not organic (although occasionally, it's all of these things - in fact, occasionally, the produce is absolutely perfect).
If, however, you've enjoyed shopping at outdoor markets in Europe, Asia, Africa, or South America, you'll enjoy the experience of shopping at Haymarket, Boston's closest equivalent.
Shop carefully, and you can usually find prime produce at a great price.
And if you don't mind occasional imperfections and limit yourself to buying only what you can eat, preserve, or share with friends and neighbors within a day or two, you'll save considerable money.
I face this dilemma myself more often than I'd like to admit.The delicious fruit crisp show in the photo is just one of the solutions I've come up with.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes for transforming all the wonderful produce you can find at Haymarket:
Part of the reason for building nearby Faneuil Hall Marketplace back in 1742 was to provide an open marketplace where vendors and customers could congregate.
Produce sellers have clustered in the Haymarket location since around 1830. Judging by old photos and written accounts, a lot more vendors used to gather here in pre-supermarket days than do now, although the number has been growing in recent years.
For the second half of the 19th century, Boston's elevated Central Artery highway towered over Haymarket on the east, keeping it in perpetual shadow and spewing noise and pollution.
By the 1990s, Haymarket appeared to be on the verge of extinction.
Due to construction from the Big Dig, Boston's 16-year project to relocate the Central Artery below ground, Haymarket shrank to just a sliver of its former size. Surrounding piles of construction rubble felt oppressive. Some of the vendors, understandably, acted surly and hostile.
Worst of all, the produce didn't always look too good.
But all of that has changed.
Fortunately, the 200-member Haymarket Pushcart Association formed in the 1980s to work with the city on issues such as space and garbage removal. During the darkest days of the Big Dig, the Association fought to keep the market alive. They succeeded, and introduced improvements.
And now, the Big Dig has faded to just a memory. The beautiful new Rose Kennedy Greenway reunites the North End and Haymarket, Boston's historic marketplace, flourishes again.
Prices are still rock-bottom. But Haymarket feels mellower.
Haymarket vendors, long known for using, um, colorful language when customers prod the produce or take too long to make up their minds, have become family-friendly.
Now, they'll smile when they give you your bag, saying "Here you go, sweetheart" - and sometimes throw in an extra lemon or eggplant.
Squished produce still piles up behind the stalls and yes, on hot days, it does smell a bit (ok, a lot) - but the mush seems to be removed more frequently.
The posh Millennium Bostonian Hotel next door and the bucolic Greenway across the street also make the neighborhood feel trendier and more up-market. Fortunately, Haymarket still retains its down-market charm and cheap prices.
And not only have all the vendors returned, but their numbers seem to have grown to at least 60-80 each weekend. Crowds of buyers survey the strings of garlic, the golden mangoes, the glistening fresh fish.
Whenever I'm there, which is as often as possible, I feel like I'm part of a centuries-old procession of village market shoppers. I love the sights, the smells, the vendors' banter.
And of course, I love the bargains.
Long live Haymarket!
People love or hate Haymarket - there's no middle ground.
I love it - so here are my 10 best tips for having a great experience while snapping up bargains at this interesting Boston historic site.
1. Buy only what you can consume or preserve within a day or two. Remember, most of what's there has been sitting in a warehouse for a week. Make sauce out of tomatoes, jam from the strawberries, and give some peaches to your neighbors. Better yet, invite all your friends over for a huge feast and consume everything the night you buy it.
2. If freshness matters most to you, shop early rather than late, and Friday instead of Saturday. If price is most important, do the reverse. Near closing time on Saturday (in other words, right before dusk), you can bargain with good results.
3. Stroll through the market to see which items are the best value. Lemons that are 12 for $1 may not be the same quality as those that are 4 for $1. Or they may be. Or maybe you can live with a couple of squishy ones if you get a great price. Shop carefully. Buy according to your values and needs.
4. Most of the vendors like to bag the produce for you. You can show them which items you want, but don't touch the produce. Some shoppers get offended by this restriction. Personally, I like to know that dozens of other fingers haven't been prodding the pears I'm buying.
You'll hear stories about vendors pulling out inferior produce from the back and sneaking it into your bag when you're not looking. I've never had that happen - but if you're concerned, just keep an eye on what's going into your bag.
5. Joke and banter with the vendors if you want, but don't try to engage them in long conversations about green farming in Peru or the globalization of bananas. These guys work hard and time is money to them.
6. Bring plenty of $1 bills so that the vendors don't have to make change. And bring your own reusable bags.
7. Say "please" and "thank you." Smile. Be nice. Have fun. (In other words, act in a way that would make your mom proud.)
8. Explore the small shops in the basement of the building on Blackstone Street next to the market. You'll see amazing prices.
The fish (only available in non-summer months) is fresh from the nearby piers.
Be sure to check out the cheese vendor and the Halal market also.
9. If you're visiting Boston for just a short time and don't want to buy anything, stop by anyway. It's a Boston experience.
Take some great photos, and enjoy the people-watching.
10. Be flexible - you never know what you may spot! And be philosophical - if you buy 8 mangos for a dollar and you discover later that 2 have mushy spots, you still snagged a great bargain. Especially since the ones for $1.99 each in the supermarket are always too green to eat for a week.
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