[eat] how to sample your way through the pike place market

I’ve lived in Seattle for almost 8 years and I still love to “play tourist”. I take a picture of the Pike Place Market signs almost every time I walk by and can’t resist snapping photos of the fresh produce and the gorgeous bouquets of flowers. I embrace most opportunities to go shop there because by now I know exactly where to go and how to efficiently navigate my way through the crowds of people. I also know where all the samples are, because when my friend Leah used to live here, she would insist she could create a meal just by walking in the Market and surrounding blocks.

If you’re interested in sampling your way through the Market, here’s how she did it. Please note that  I can’t guarantee that samples will be available at all of these places, and let me know if there are any places you make sure to stop when you go!

Let’s say you’re walking down Pike Street, planning to enter the Market through the main entrance. If you happen to find yourself between 3rd and 4th Avenue, then you might consider starting your sample tour at KuKuRuZa Gourmet Popcorn! They’re often outside handing out samples of their “Chicago Style” popcorn – it’s a mix of cheddar and caramel popcorn. Sounds bizarre but the flavors actually work quite well together! You can also ask for samples of some of their other unusual flavors, but it’s rude to do that if you’re not planning to buy.

Then you’ll continue on your way, past City Target, past Seattle Coffee Works (where you might want to pop in and enjoy a tasting at their Slow Bar – not sure if it’s free) and towards the main Market entrance. Ask a tourist to take a photo of you and your friends in front of the sign and grab a slice of an apple/peach/pear or whatever the corner produce market employees are handing out (sample #2). Then head towards Rosie the Pig and give her the obligatory pat on the head and check to see if the fish-throwing guys are as cute as they usually are. Then head to your right and join the inevitable crush of people browsing through the Market.

Your third sample awaits you at Pappardelle’s Pasta just a little way down and on the right-hand side. They’ll be offering you a sample of their dried chocolate pasta (sample #3). Yup, chocolate pasta. Now, since it’s dry it isn’t really very easy to eat and doesn’t really taste like anything, but it definitely piques your interest. I’ve never taken the plunge to actually purchase any, but maybe some day! Pappardelle’s also has a lazy Susan of bread cubes and an assortment of olive oils, but if it’s crowded then you won’t want to stay there. Don’t worry – there are more oil samples to come!

Just past Pappardelle’s and on the left, you’ll want to stop by Chukar Cherries for a sample of one of their delicious dried and chocolate covered cherries (sample #4). These are delicious! And you can try just about any kind that you want, but again – be mindful and don’t take advantage. And across from Chukar Cherries, you’ll see the folks at Woodring Orchard encouraging you to sample a taste of their pepper-flavored jelly or some jam or honey (sample #5). Now, according to Leah, you’ll find another vendor just beyond that is sampling a variety of nuts, but I haven’t ever made it that far because this is the intersection where I usually choose to duck out of the Market and take to the street for the rest of my tour. 

Backtrack just a bit and head across the street to La Buona Tavola for samples of their different olive oils. Grab a toothpick and spear yourself a bread cube and try their balsamic vinegar and truffle-flavored oils (sample #6). After bread and oil, hopefully you will be in the mood for your cheese course. Head over to Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, where you can watch them actually make the cheese through the window. If you’re in the mood for a full meal, then hop in line and get an order of their famous macaroni and cheese, or walk to the back and get in line to try samples of their cheeses and cheese curds (sample #7)! The staff will ask you what kind of cheese you like and then help make suggestions based on your preferences.

And finally, make your way the street, past the park and Cutter’s and visit the Lost River Winery tasting room and enjoy a wine tasting for only $5, which is really quite reasonable since everything else so far has been free!

If you’re feeling ambitious and don’t mind backtracking a bit, head up to the Chocolate Box where there are often samples on the counter, or down to Fran’s Chocolates, where they’ll often give you a free salted caramel – a favorite of President Obama! If you go to Fran’s, you might as well pop across the street for a tea tasting at Vital Tea Leaf. I haven’t done it but that’s because my last tea-tasting excursion pumped me so full of caffeine that I didn’t sleep for 3 days!


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