Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Secret is Out on the Underground Market

One theory that holds true through the years – to make something appealing, make it exclusive. Better yet, call it a secret.

With the bubbling of pop-up restaurants and increasing street carts tracked by Twitter, another word-of-mouth food event in San Francisco is known as the Underground Market. It’s called that not because it’s necessarily underground (although sometimes in the cramped quarters it may feel like a cave), but because it’s below the law, assembling as a private club (to avoid Department of Health inspectors) to sell homemade goods and products.

On Saturday, I made it to SOMA to hunt down the Underground Market. I already did my bit by pre-registering with the organizer and creator, SF Forage, where I pledged my support to the homegrown producers and acknowledging that, yeah, these things were made at home.

Walking to an alley in the early evening, I found dozens of people who beat me to the side entrance as a line wrapped around the block and then had to be twirled around as if that would make the line seem shorter.

After waiting outside for about 30 minutes, smelling the scent of curry as I neared the entrance, I entered the underground. Not sure what to expect (I kept thinking someone would ask me for a password), all I knew was I had never been so close to so many strangers when food was involved.

Working my way gingerly through the makeshift tables crowded into a warehouse that partly looked like someone’s low-rent home, I saw an endless array of baked goods. Some freakishly colored, some rustic in that Good Housekeeping sense, and others perfectly presented like it could be sold in a real store.

My favorite was these macarons by Christopher David, who sells his French treats online. The strawberry-lavender macaron was pure heaven, making it almost worth being pushed and shoved by backpack-wielding consumers. (Really? A stuffed backpack in tight quarters?)

Hand-made chocolates, jars of pickled vegetables, and more baked goods filled other tables. And while not officially a farmers market, there were also beautiful wild mushrooms and raw honey.

It seemed most people came not to buy but to consume, wandering the tables to munch on pulled pork sandwiches, quiches, and the popular pork belly buns. I found it difficult to eat in the crowd, but while trapped in one corner I was next to the guy selling homemade fresh ginger beer, which was a refreshing quencher at the moment.

I left after about an hour, but the market continued until the late evening when it turned into a Saturday night party. While it was packed in the beginning, I heard it got more manageable later.

While extremely crowded (the space was supposedly three times larger than the first market, which makes me scared about those early markets), the Underground Market is one of the best ways for a foodie in the city to enjoy a Saturday night. Since some of you couldn’t make it, here are more photos of this not-so-secret market.

To sign up for the next market, visit the SF Forage site.


Cookie said...

How fun! I can't believe this was in my neck of the woods and I didn't know about it! Bummer!

Hungry Dog said...

Wow--I had no idea about this. You are clearly my source for cool food things in the bay area!! I had to laugh at the backpack comment--I always have that same thought when someone has a backpack in a crowd or on Muni. Um, reallY?

Great photos!!

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Thanks for taking us in with you! ForageSF is a great idea. Hoping for continued success!

Anonymous said...

I signed up, but didn't go. I hope to go to the next one.
How did you pay for the food? Cash only or did any take credit cards?
How much were things like the Macarons?

Single Guy Ben said...

Oh, I guess this was still a secret to some of you! ;-)

I made sure to bring lots of cash because I don't think anyone had a credit machine. Most of the prices seemed typical for farmers markets, like about $10 for the bottled vinegar and sauces or $8 for pickled jars of vegetables. The refreshing ginger beer was $3 for a glass, and the macarons were $1.50 each. I guess initially I thought things would be way cheaper since these people don't have to pay licenses or rent, but then I figured, hey, they probably put in a lot of work and it was a way for them to make some extra money so why not?

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing. I signed up!

Victor said...

Wow, that looks like a lot of fun! I just subscribed (something I rarely do).

Carolyn Jung said...

This looks not only crazy, but crazy fun to boot! I tell ya, how did the pursuit of eating good food ever turn into such an extreme event, hey?

Mrs. L said...

I think I just need to take a weeks vacation and just follow you around to eat. You find the coolest things!

Monet's Cakes said...

I was a vendor (the rustic GoodHousekeeping cakes) and it was a great event. Yes it was crowded/busy, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and snacks as well as buying some items to take home. Can't wait for the next one.