Scandinavian Market Halls & Take-Away: it’s more than a re-translation of “take-out”
One powerful reason to travel is to feed appetites for what is different. By traveling we also practice our (and, if all works well, our companions’) capacity to navigate unfamiliar situations and instincts for “reading” a landscape or city. When we travel we also create opportunities to re-connect with dormant passions and explore our tolerance for risk and the unfamiliar. And– perhaps not until home again and re-entered into our default routines– travel helps us reflect on what we have (and have done) at home.
Our food choices and ways of eating when we travel can range from the intentional and experimental to serving the basic biological demand for calories. I, for one, cannot imagine traveling without an intention to embrace local foodways. And as special places to both residents and visitors alike, notable features in the local food landscape can literally draw the physical pathways and powerful memories of an urban exploratory experience.
My recent tour of a handful of notable Scandinavian market halls nourished and served me in all these ways, and more. As a somewhat time-constrained traveler, my beforehand research started with the New York Times’ 36 Hours series for Helsinki here, Stockholm here, and Copenhagen here. And while my visits were all not so time-constrained, I was heartened to find their listings of the “op ten or twelve “must-dos in a day and a half” invariably prioritized food destinations (and in particular, market halls).
For more nuanced perspectives that celebrate place, design, food, and fashion, the Design*Sponge series offered me flavor, flair, quirk, and informed local opinion. Created by locally-based writers and liberally inclusive of constructive follow-up comments, these online guides provide insights and information that exceeds their sometimes awkward organization. And that the guides for Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen are each written by different design professionals only enriched Design*Sponge’s collective menu for our exploration.
Arriving marginally jet-lagged and knowing no Finnish at all, I hadn’t a clue how accurately Helsinki’s place names would (or would not) inform an English-constrained visitor. So, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that Helsinki’s Market Square does support a vital, if somewhat tourist-oriented, daily market.
The Market Square is where everyday, touristic and historic Helsinki mingle: a neoclassical esplanade, the city hall, this eponymous backdrop of food and crafts, the city’s foot ferry to the Suomenlinna island preserve, and tour boat docks merge for real Finns and tourists alike. And sitting calmly just off to the side of this happy jumble rests Vanhakauppahalli, the Old Market Hall. I can imagine that in the icy fog of this Arctic capital’s winter, the Old Market Hall would be more the hub of activity than the various open-air goings-on during my gloriously sunny August visit.
Built in 1888,Vanhakauppahalli (the Old Market Hall) stands as a handsome, brick and glazed tile stalwart since its renovation and rededication just two years ago. At its almost cozy size, dark wood and lots of upper level glass handsomely provide a setting for fresh food staples, specialties and prepared items of surprising variety. It was a visual feast just taking in the many sorts of smoked salmon, jerky and sausage of reindeer, and lovingly presented open-faced sandwiches. Matching the savory with the sweet, half a dozen equally-thronged stalls proudly displayed seasonal berries and excellent pastries.
What did surprise me was revealed at the end of the hall farthest from the bustle of the Market Square main entry (and its very well-maintained public washrooms).
There, Vietnamese sandwiches, what we regularly consume as Bánh mì, were matter-of-factly stacked for sale with a warm weather favorite, the rice paper-wrapped “fresh shrimp rolls” replete with northern prawns (?). Strangely, what endeared me most to this so-familiar enterprise was the authentic bottle of imported-from-California Huy Fong Food’s Sriracha. Regardless, they comprised the perfect take-away for my satchel’s picnic.
What more did I take away? By the third morning that I’d coursed through (just for a coffee and departure-day travel snack), I felt this place was fixed on my mental map, one that provided real gratitude for how a historic structure can anchor a contemporary daily life. To be sure, it was a tourist’s mental map, but that was who I was, at least on this visit. (A few years ago, one writer pointed out the relative charms and merits of less-centrally located market halls in two Helsinki neighborhoods as the “go-to” places. This trip, I had time only to pedal past them on a Sunday or after-hours.)
Did any additional “Take Away” make it home to Seattle and this writing? Yes. I do have my weekly routine to patronize and fully experience the University District Farmers Market. Each visit, I thank myself for intently working to secure its home, our historic University Heights Center.
As a mostly-residential quarter of the center city, Östermalms was perfectly situated for a too-brief visit to this cosmopolitan capital. Proximate to a New Nordic gastrological mecca, close-to-the-harbor access to breathtaking island museums and gardens, and a very welcoming yoga studio, the Östermalms Saluhall market hall rounded out my Stockholm “must do” list—all within a ten minute walk.
And while the market hall itself clearly drew customers from the surrounding neighborhood, it most definitely occupies a “destination” status adjacent to the Östermalmstorg metro station.
While that intersection of activity itself was delightful and vibrant, what was particularly extraordinary was to experience all that energy and deliciousness at a temporary market hall! The original and soon-to-completely-renovated historic landmark structure sits across the street and apart from the hustle and bustle in its own construction jumble.
In such tight confines (and a very desirable, place-sensitive location) of a built-out city, the only real location option for such an important, temporary market hall is to have taken over public street space.
From what I can tell comparing these before– and more-current Google Street Views, the paved open plaza over the metro station was the only and perfect spot, and has become a very adequate substitute for the beloved turret-topped and brick-clad Saluhall.
And come 2018, the 125-year young landmark will reopen its doors. Until then, watch progress here.
While I do not plan to soon see the Östermalms market re-installed in its permanent home, I carried home an important appreciation of market locations. They seem to impart something almost sacred, so place-based that we go to extraordinary lengths to preserve/temporarily house and re-vive them in situ. I have written elsewhere about this when reflecting on the resurrection of St. Cloud market, an anchor in one gentrifying quarter of post-Katrina New Orleans.
More, I felt re-committed to the difficult work of leveraging public assets to secure and maintain space for the urban (delivery and sales) side of our own local food equation. I reclaimed a sense of appreciation (and yes, pride) for the work I did to navigate a farmers market’s move into a public street. While the public street right-of-way was available “for occupancy,” the real challenge in mapping such a relocation was accounting for bus routes, trolley layovers, and private driveway access points.
Now the current focus in Seattle is to make the best possible Capitol Hill Farmers Market as part of Gerding Edlin’s Capitol Hill Station project on Sound Transit’s surplus properties. Unlike the Östermalms site where the post-construction metro station plaza hosts a temporary market, Seattle’s newest transit station plaza will host a permanent, year-round farmers market.
While the unflagging efforts of the local CHampion group have kept the Farmers Market as the pre-eminent community priority, my cameo role in their community-based process has evolved since I joined the Board of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance. In that capacity we are carefully considering particular design elements, management and operational considerations to successfully support such a treasured community asset and important local food institution.
My third market hall visit underscored the complex intersection of well-loved public space, a heavily used transit network, and strong neighborhood fabric. Just beyond the northern edge of Copenhagen’s pedestrian district, Torvehallerne is, at only five years old, well known as both a relative newcomer and big success. It hosts dozens of indoor stalls and a handful of impressive outdoor fresh produce vendors. It is also a major transit transfer point, the backdrop to a well-loved public plaza, and surrounded by a vibrant urban neighborhood.
The contrast between my two visits could not have been more stark. Midday appetites and crowds made the first tour almost urgent, and many shoppers were on task—not tourists wandering aimlessly. A single fig of startling size and sweetness made its way into my hand, providing the perfect pairing with an extraordinary, chocolate-infused dark bread from Meyer Bageri I had procured earlier that morning.
My return visit was a forlorn experience, hoping Torvehallerne would perfectly punctuate a wandering that featured Copenhagen’s renowned walking street (over 1km long!) I conveniently ignored the fact that Sunday would not be a shopping day, yet was still not prepared to see the market hall completely shuttered, devoid of people and produce. And yet in its naked state, I could appreciate the civic infrastructure to which the market hall is integral. Rows of empty bike racks, bus shelters without crowds, fountain plazas without squealing kids scampering about…Even in its “resting state,” I could appreciate what it provides to the community.
The last take-away
The investment of on-the-ground time seeking, surveying, sampling and shopping these special places affirmed several truths for me. First, my gut-level appetite to support and cherish places that connect us to where we are in the world and each other through food does not waver or “take a vacation” when I travel. More, having the chance to explore, savor and soak in the full reality of these places only re-confirmed the pride I take in Seattle– nurturing projects and places that contribute to our own local food system.