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Middle Eastern Shuks, Public Markets, and a Day to Remember

Having lived in the Middle East for a year, when I hear the words “public market,” I think of the shuks and their crowded stalls where vendors sell tea, spices, dates, and nutty baklava that melts in your mouth. While the food was on one side of the market, the other side was filled with gorgeous dining ware, handmade rugs of orange and red, and household items from pots to cleaning supplies. I took the bus to the shuk every Friday morning and never left empty handed.

When I returned to the states, I missed these public markets. Grocery stores seemed outrageously overpriced and there were no vendors to chat with. At the shuk, the woman who sold me olives each week would ask if I had a boyfriend yet, and she tried to set me up with her oldest son. Those personal connections were sorely missed.

Last week I went to the Coliseum Swap Meet in Oakland. I didn’t know what to expect. It never occurred to me that I might actually enjoy the markets in California as much as I loved the shuks. What I saw were families gathered around dolls at different booths, shoppers bagging delicious produce, and farmers smiling as they conversed with customers. The diverse range of products was impressive, as neighboring stalls offered tools like hammers and drills, and others antique teapots. Children darted across the aisles carrying their goodies with their parents in tow.

The snack bar was another level of wonderful, as it featured both Central American and Chinese cuisines. I tried my first pupusa, cornmeal flatbread stuffed with beans and cheese. I was not disappointed. The talented cooks helped me and my friends decide what to order and we settled on splitting pupusas, quesadillas, and spring rolls. I know it sounds like an odd combination, but believe me when I say it works!

I’m definitely going back to the public markets. Maybe I’ll once again be set up with a vendor’s son. Anything is possible!

- Arielle Z.

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