Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lancaster's Eastern Market is not to be missed

I’ve just had the best Falafel sandwich I’ve ever had in my life. I found it at the Eastern Market where Hamid Hamid has a fresh produce stand. He and his family are from Palestine, and they’ve moved to Lancaster, where Hamid had been a foreign exchange student. Now he farms and custom butchers meat, selling the fruit of his labor at Eastern Market while his wife, Noel, occupies a portion of the stand with her Falafel station.

For $4, Noel will scoop out her readied chickpea, cilantro, and spices mixture onto a Falafel-making tool that is akin to a flat-top ice cream scoop. After deftly shaping it into a ball, she drops it into a small vat of hot oil to begin the frying process. Once golden brown, crispy, and sizzling, she stuffs 4 of them into a pita pocket along with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, hot sauce, and the sesame-based tahini sauce. The result is a wonderfully moist, immensely delicious, artfully-made sandwich that is arresting. The juxtaposition of the cool vegetables with the piping hot falafel, spiciness of the hot sauce with the chill of the tahini sauce makes it a provoking eat, and all in the palm of your hands.

The day I ate it, it was 27 (degree) F outside and windy. But the sandwich was so good, I would have tolerated 0 degrees in a blizzard, and I would still have been happily chomping away, while chatting with the gregarious Hamid about the latest and most unique produce he has available. This time, he had Romanesco Cauliflower, a light green cruciferous vegetable with a lovely spiraled and geometric look to it. Who knew Eastern Market would be so Martha?


Another prepared foods vendor of note is Gursha, who specializes in organic Ethiopian cuisine. She had a smattering of dishes warming in chafing dishes. Still, with the bitter cold of the wind, it was difficult to keep things as warm as she would have wanted. For $12, we got a sampling of the 4 dishes she had that day – Injera bread mixed with spices and clarified butter, served with a cooked egg and a spicy condiment, a yellow split pea stew, a red lentil stew, and braised cabbage and carrots.

Now, I won’t even pretend to know all of the spices that went into Gursha’s dishes. I’d guess that she used the most common of Ethiopian spices – berbere, turmeric, garlic, ginger, and that her Injera bread was likely made with Teff, its traditional grain. Yes, I need a much more in-depth lesson in the cuisine. But what I do know is that Gursha’s dishes were wholesome, tasty, and comparable to the Ethiopian food I’ve had in Washington DC and in New York City. My particular favorites were the spicy Injera bread mixture, flavorful lentil stew, and comforting cabbage dishes.

The unfortunate thing out of all of this is that Eastern Market is only open on the first Saturday of the month from 11AM-2PM from November through May. From June to October, they’re open every Wednesday and Saturday. Thankfully, Gursha’s food can be found at Expressly Local on King St. at any time. But it means I can only have Noel’s Falafel sandwich just once a month until June. Sigh. Just one more thing that makes winter seem to last so long.

Note: Definitely check out the website to get a feel for Eastern Market's mission. It's cool.

Eastern Market

308 East King Street

Lancaster, PA 17608

(717) 358-9368

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