Your Dekalb Farmers Market is the type of place that inspires stopping and staring at how other people shop while filling your own cart. At least, that’s the case for me. Can’t help it – I learn too much by other people’s choices and observations. It’s the type of place where Buddha’s Hand (striking yellow fruit eaten or used as table decoration), turban squash (with its multicolored “headdress” crowning its top) and aloe (green fleshy leaves containing gel used to heal skin) are not only in the bins, but picked by shoppers, too. And that’s just in produce. Live fish and shellfish swim in bins in the seafood section, awaiting customer orders. Hundreds of varieties of cheeses from around the world await perusing in dairy. The deli department includes made-on-site smoked sausage is for the picking in deli. Spices, ground and packaged on site, cover pretty much any cuisine.What to pick? Since prices are comparable to the big-box “supers,” you’re not out of big bucks if that sour tamarind fruit or black chia seeds you decide to try are not to your liking.A four-hour drive from Charlotte and located just outside of Atlanta, Your Dekalb Farmers Market also promotes itself as “A World Market” – and selections and shoppers resemble this. The market draws 75,000 visitors weekly, says Diane Talley with the market’s art and education department. What started as a small produce stand in 1977 is now a 140,000-square-foot enclosed warehouse run by nearly 700 workers. Nearly 200 flags representing all parts of the globe hang from the warehouse rafters – a reflection of the diversity of both the employees and shoppers.Vegetables, teas, coffees and spices are imported from throughout the U.S. and the world. More than 150 varieties of breads and cakes are made on site at the massive bakery. The family-owned business is a must-stop for locals, tourists, culinary experts and even school tours. The market can inspire you to think about those New Year’s healthy-eating resolutions no matter what season you visit. The veggie trivia seems endless – I learned about the fuzzy Mo Qua Squash, the white sweet potato called boniato and the bumpy-leafed “dinosaur kale” during a recent visit. At the market entrance, flyers with vegetarian recipes help inspire shopping choices.After spending some time cart-watching, I finally started filling my own. In an experimental mood, but without a cooler, I wanted to get things that would hold up on return drive to Charlotte, and that also could be prepared easily. I scooped up what looked to be stir-fry friendly: round, mini-sized Indian eggplant with the familiar purple hue, and Thai eggplant, a green variation.That cool-looking dinosaur kale, also called lacinato, worked well back home for a soup that included chicken sausage and orzo.Curiosity helped me pick out the focaccia bread layered with zatar seasoning blend – a Middle Eastern condiment mix of thyme, sesame seeds, sumac and salt. The spice selection is always fun for trying something new. The choice this visit: peppercorn Szechuan, which adds flair to Chinese and Japanese dishes. Tasting it whole and unground, I got a range of flavor sensations: heat, numbing bitterness, pepper, then almost a licorice-like finish.I never leave the market without replenishing my coffee bean stash – usually with the house blend. But there’s plenty to choose from, including beans from Jamaica, Brazil, Guatemala, Kenya and elsewhere.Not one to deny the sweet tooth, I stopped by the pastry counter to sample a “granola muffin” packed with almonds, cashews, walnuts and oatmeal. The first bite reaffirmed my earlier decision to place a pack of those goodies in my cart.Back home, those muffins went faster than those Australian black chia seeds, which I bought after hearing the seeds can be sprinkled in oatmeal or used in baking. Perhaps I’ll wait for another time to follow others’ lead on that one.
Want to Go?Dekalb Farmers Market
3000 E. Ponce De Leon Ave., Decatur, Ga., 30033
Details: The market accepts cash, checks and debit cards, but no credit cards.
Shopping tips: Bring a sweater or jacket, since the warehouse stays cool.
Leave a cooler in your car for carrying back those fresh perishables, such as fish.
If you have a cookbook at home with recipes you haven’t tried before because you don’t have the right spices, bring it with you. You’ll find all kinds of spice varieties on the shelves.
Before you browse, visit the pastry counter for a fresh croissant and coffee to have while shopping. Stop off at the market restaurant before you hit the road home for a hot lunch made with market foods.
If you visit Sunday, the advertised 700 varieties of wines and 500 types of beer are off limits due to Georgia law.