FOOD & STYLE

Parade of Seasonal Flavors at Marché@
For the best-tasting green groceries in Seoul, simply head down to Marché@. It’s a marketplace organized by those who know about the joy of buying fresh groceries to cook meals and those who work with nature, growing crops and reaping what nature allows them.
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View of Marché@ Market © Marché@

Farmer Park Jin-ho who had spent a whole day collecting native kiwiberries in the forest left his house in Hoengseong, Gangwon Province, at 8 o’clock in the morning. At a similar hour, farmer couple Hwang Jin-ok and Yu Bong-ho loaded onto their car home-made basil pesto, chestnut milk jam, and lemon curd, as well as fertile eggs and vegetables including cucumbers and overripe cucumbers harvested the day before. They were all heading to “The Vegetable Market at Hapjeong” by Marché@ in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. The market opens at 11 a.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month.
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Farmers Hwang Jin-ok·Yu Bong-ho pose before nearly sold-out vegetable stand.

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Farmer Park Jin-ho holding native gooseberry.

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Cut half of the gooseberry to show the seeds.

Beginning and Present of Marché@
Marché@, which is a combination of French word marché meaning “marketplace” and the preposition “at,” indicates a market that can open anytime, anywhere. It first started in October 2012 in Hyehwa-dong, Jongno-gu. The small market began from an idea that it would be nice to have a marketplace filled with people, relationships, and conversations that discuss how produce is grown and where it comes from before purchases are made.
Marché@ is currently operated in two formats by a five-member group called “Marché Friends.” The main market is the Farmers’ Market, launched in 2012 and participated by farmers, cooks, and craftsmen. The Vegetable Market was launched in April 2019. Based on the experience with the Farmers’ Market, the Vegetable Market aims to minimize the impact caused by the capricious weather. If the former is a monthly festive event with a theme such as “freshly-harvested wheat,” “roots,” and “grass,” the latter is a small village market of some 20 farmer teams and one chef team invited by the organizers. The farmer teams each bring high-quality, fresh seasonal greens for sale.
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View of Farmers’ Market at Marronnier Park

The difference between Marché@ and other markets? The vendors attending the Farmers’ Market comprises farmers’ groups, chefs’ groups, handicraft teams, and event teams. There are several criteria that they all need to have in order to qualify for the market. For instance, a farmers’ group must raise non-GMO crops using home-produced seeds and sustainable, eco-friendly farming methods. Small-scale producers who have low market competitiveness have the priority. Similar criteria are applied to a chefs’ group. They must prefer domestic ingredients to imported produce, and provide dishes made with crops grown in urban or suburban areas, without adding artificial flavors. The market has stuck to this principle from the start.
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Vegetable Market @ Hapjeong. This market is set up both indoors and outdoors.

Marketplace Chatter
“These are Korean native cucumbers. Have you tried them? They can be eaten the same way as regular cucumbers but have a better scent and flavor. Different from the ones you get at a supermarket. My family’s been growing these for decades from the seeds my mother harvested herself. The small yield prevents us from growing them commercially. That’s wasting the land. It’s hard to find in other markets. We grow them for our own consumption. (smile) If you make cucumber pickle using these, it tastes more crunchy and firm.”
All this chatter came in return of a simple question about cucumbers sold at a tiny vendor. At Marché@, producers are directly involved in the sale and they interact with customers. That is, farmers sell their own produce. Thanks to such a system, participating farmers and customers freely discuss items on sale and learn about each other. Farmer Hwang Jin-ok said, “Most of those who come to Marché@ already know how it works, so we have a basic mutual understanding. It feels like we have something in common. It’s more like friendly neighbors rather than sellers versus buyers.” Farmer Park Jin-ho, who’s been partaking in Marché@ since 2015, chose “conversations” as one of the market’s advantages. “For wholesale supplies, the fruits must be in good condition. That means we are expected to use pesticides and follow customary methods. Here, we are free to talk. How we grow our products and their varying sizes do not matter, and people already understand that aspect.”
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Farmers’ Market put together by farmers, cooks and handicraft people

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Farmers sell food they’ve cooked with ingredients they grew.

Marché@ is a gathering of people who study what to look in a good food and how to diversify the food culture. They learn that vegetables taste differently depending on which farmer or cook is in charge. They learn that the same kind of produce can look differently. They learn how to taste them in the most natural way. They learn all of this through conversations. That’s what makes their everyday life richer.
People behind Marché@: Kim Song-hee of Marché Friends
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Q. There must be a lot of variables, dealing with Mother Nature. Any difficulties in managing the markets?
A. A lot, indeed. Even this morning, it rained a lot. It’s always tense. We launched the Vegetable Market this year because of the unpredictable weather. Imagine 70-80 groups of farmers preparing for the Farmers’ Market and suddenly we go through a heat wave or a cold spell, fine dust or gusts of wind. Looking for a more stable indoor option made us realize it’s difficult to open a big market in such a condition. That’s how we came to plan a small one, which would also enable our vendors to have closer interactions with their customers in a more relaxed setting.

Q. It seems important to maintain close relationships with the farmers.
A. Every time we open the market, we go through the products thoroughly. We talk with the farmers a lot, too. For example, if a farmer who sold apples last year does not plan to this year, we call him and ask about it. (smile) There are certain mechanisms to maintain and manage a community in the market environment, since it’s based on human relations. After the market is closed, we all get together for dinner. The entire participants meet up twice a year to discuss important issues regarding the market. Some managing directors are selected from the vendors to share their opinions.

Q. It’s been 8 years since the launch of Marché@. What changes do you feel most strongly?
A. A lot more customers now buy vegetables. The farmers have also changed a lot through interacting with their customers. Some adopted new farming methods or new kinds of species. The market itself has changed too. In the beginning it was for the friendship that we started the market. Now we’re thinking of the role of our markets in the Korean setting. We think that we are obliged to create a venue where customers, farmers, and cooks can all get together by opening the market regularly in the long term.

Q. Cooks are important in the market, too.
A. They are. We also learned it while running the market. We live in an era where people no longer cook at home. We pay attention to celebrity chefs like we do to actors. People are greatly influenced by what they say or how they buy groceries and cook them. What we focus on now is the fact that the relationships between farmers and cooks and the conversation they share have a big impact on the industry. The farmers get detailed feedback from the cooks. For example, there is this farmer who is growing arugula for the first time. It’s not easy to find arugula in Korea. An Italian cook can be helpful in this situation. “I’m an Italian cook. I think real arugula should taste more spicy with a bit of sweetness at the end, and have a more crunchy texture.” Then the farmer will really do his best to get that flavor from his production.
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People enjoying food made of seasonal ingredients

Q. That can be done by changing the farming style?
A. Yes. If you try really hard, you will get more delicious vegetables. That way, you can also promote your farm in the cooks’ community. Customers may think, “That chef made that yummy dish using this veggie. Should I give it a try?”

Q. Grocery shopping and cooking. For the market to be sustainable, it can’t be separated from our daily life. Is that correct?
A. Yes. Grocery shopping and cooking should be an important part of our life. Customers need to want vegetables for the producers to continue their hard work. If all farmers find it easier just to sell their products to large corporations, the system will no longer allow healthy food products to survive in the market. That’s why individual customers and restaurant customers are important. Especially for the small-scale producers working with Marché@, it is vital to build customer trust through relationships. Let’s say this year’s apples from this one farm look a bit ugly. Those who remember the flavor of their apples from last year will still make a purchase despite the look, remembering and cheering on the farmer.
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Vegetable Market @ Hapjeong

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Cookies and cake sold at Farmers’ Market @ Hyehwa

Q. It reminds me of the expression “the farmer I know” from your website introduction.
A. It happens naturally with the ones who frequently come to our markets. The farmer I know, or the chef I know, etc. Those relationships give a sense of support to both sides.

Q. Can you give a tip on how to enjoy the Marché@ markets for first-time visitors?
A. If you’re visiting the Farmers’ Market, there’re a lot of food sampling and fun activities including performances, workshops, and exhibitions. Bring your own shopping bag, and maybe personal utensils and tumbler. Some even bring their own mat. Make sure to ask a lot of questions to the farmers. You can ask anything directly. For repeat visitors, give feedback to the farmers regarding the previous purchase. For example, if you talk about how you cooked this leek you bought and how you loved the result, the seller will be thrilled and proud. By forming a relationship with the farmers in this way and maintaining it is another fun aspect of our markets.
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Farmers’ Market @ Hyehwa © Marché@

Marché@
Homepage www.marcheat.net

The Farmers’ Market at Hyehwa
Address Marronnier Park, 1 Daehak-ro 8-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Day 2nd Sunday of every month
Hours 11:00~16:00

The Vegetable Market at Seongsu
Address Seongsu Yeonbang, 14 Seongsui-ro 14-gil, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Day 1st Saturday of every month
Hours 11:00~15:00

The Vegetable Market at Hapjeong
Address Mudaeruk, 12 Tojeong-ro 5-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Day 4th Tuesday of every month
Hours 11:00~15:00
October 2019 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Photographer:Ahn Garam

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