Cheap Family Activity: Visiting the Haymarket


Welcome to the Haymarket.  Make sure you tell your kids there's not going to be any hay BEFORE you arrive.
Welcome to the Haymarket. Make sure you tell your kids there’s not going to be any hay BEFORE you arrive.

I am currently eating a pretty decent peach that I bought for next to nothing at the Haymarket last Saturday.  This fact may be influencing me as I report to you that the Haymarket is pretty awesome.  I mean, I’m in Boston, not Atlanta, so the peach isn’t mind-blowingly good or anything, but it’s got just the right level of juiciness and it tastes like a peach instead of like moist corn meal, so I’m declaring it a success.

Before
Before
After.   Also, try to imagine I made a James and the Giant Peach joke here.  Wouldn't that have just been a hoot!
After.
Also, try to imagine I made a James and the Giant Peach joke here. Wouldn’t that have just been a hoot!

Peaches aside, the Haymarket is a genuine American institution.   It’s the open air market that’s been around since 1830 and that sells piles and piles of fruit and vegetables in varying states of quality for invariably dirt cheap prices.  It’s not like its surroundings – the North End with its fancy italian restaurants, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market with their high end shops and souvenir stands, or the subway with its undergroundness and complete lack of food.   The contrast is part of the Haymarket’s identity and its cheapness is a point of pride, as evidenced by the conflict that ensued over the potential gentrification of the market as the days of the Big Dig drew to a close.  And also as evidenced by the bronzed trash and discarded produce that decorates the street itself.

I think somebody didn't get bronzed shoes as a kid and has really overcompensated.
I think somebody didn’t get their baby shoes bronzed as a kid and has really overcompensated.

In spite of the bid to minimize quality in exchange for cheap, cheap eats, you sometimes get lucky and find a bunch of juicy peaches.  Then again, sometimes you might get burned on a bag of rotten avocados, but, on balance, we came out ahead.

In fact, however, I didn’t get burned on the avocados.  My advance research had warned me against trying to touch the merchandise.  Travel guides tell you to that the vendors can be a bit overprotective when customers paw through the produce to find the best items.  But on Saturday, the vendor offered to let me pick the avocados I wanted, which was when I found out they were all rotten to the core.   Apparently, vendors occasionally have hearts as soft as a rotten avocado.  It may have helped our case that we’d already lined up a bunch of other stuff to buy.  But that guy wasn’t the only vendor who bucked the stereotype I’d be warned about.  Another booth gave us two free bananas “for the children” as they let me pick through the peaches.  Which I bought.  And which were quite decent.

 The Bottom Line:

  • The Haymarket is a fun place to visit on a Friday afternoon or a Saturday morning with the kids.
  • It’s not a Farmer’s Market with fresh-picked, locally-grown veggies that are as crisp as an autumn breeze, but it’s cheap, it’s a part of history, and it’s a part of Boston.
  • Don’t touch the merchandise without permission (but asking politely seems to be rewarded).
  • Bring cash – small bills are better.  This helps the vendors, but it also makes it easier on you when  you don’t have to wait for change and there’s a lot of bustling going on around you.
  • Don’t try to buy food for the whole week.  There’s two ways to think about this.  First, you can be a pessimist and say it all goes bad after only a day or two.  Second, for the optimists, you could say you’re buying at the absolute peak of ripeness.
  • Take time to look at all the bronzed trash!  It’s way more interesting than I would’ve expected bronzed trash to be.
  • Walk all the way through before buying anything.  Scoping it out in advance will get you better prices and better produce.
  • Do Mother Nature a solid: bring your own cloth grocery bags if you’ve got ’em.  (Bonus: you don’t have to carry bunches of slowly shredding plastic bags around with you until you get home.  That’s good for convenience and style!)  Be warned that the vendors may just put your stuff into a plastic bag anyway, but strong cloth bags are still more convenient.
  • Enjoy an impromptu picnic on the greenway across the street after you’re done shopping.
  • You can get there on the T via the Green or the Orange line at the Haymarket T stop.
  • It’s open on Fridays and Saturdays from morningish to nightish.
  • Bonus Tip: Click on the links in the article for a hidden amusement!
When I took this picture, I thought it would be better.  Now, I'm going to act like I did it on purpose to illustrate how quality can be hit or miss at the Haymarket!
When I took this picture, I thought it would be better. Now, I’m going to act like I did it on purpose to illustrate how quality can be hit or miss at the Haymarket!