Boston’s Haymarket is a Massachusetts Treasure

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(Caption: Vendor at Haymarket in Boston, photo courtesy of Trip Advisor)

by Nam Pham

Having lived in Boston area for 30 plus years, I have often served as unofficial tour guide for friends and family members from all across the US and from overseas. I am often asked “what is your personal favorite place in Massachusetts?”

It used to be a difficult question to answer because Massachusetts is blessed with so many great places.

You want to stroll on beautiful beaches to wash away the stress of life, or watch gorgeous sunsets and sunrises? We have them, just a few minutes away, at Castle Island in South Boston, Squantum Point in Quincy, or anywhere up and down the coast.

You want to hike over hills and mountains? From Blue Hill Reservation to Mount Monnadock, you can stroll leisurely in the woods or give yourself a real workout. And check out the Mohawk Trail to see the amazing fall foliage.

You want to explore arts & culture? Visit any of our world class museums, from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Worcester’s Art Museum to the Clark Museum and Mass MoCA in Western Massachusetts.

You want chic shopping and international brands? Just check out Newbury Street and Copley Place in Boston’s Back Bay, or head down to Wrentham Outlet Village for real bargains.

Sports? We are the State of Champions. Basketball and volley ball were invented here.

Yet despite these wonderful attractions, I have to say my favorite destination is the Haymarket in Boston, the oldest open air market in the country.

Situated between the North End or Little Italy and Faneuil Hall, the Cradle of Liberty, Haymarket is a living museum of America, where hard work and diversity, two bedrocks of American life, still intertwine and matter. It is as thriving and bustling as the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a few hundred years ago. Have I told you that you can also get fresh fruits and vegetables for a fraction of supermarket prices?

Haymarket goes back to the early 1700s, notes local historian Nancy V. Weare, when “salt hay from Cape Cod and North Shore farms was being sold at Haymarket Square in Boston. In fact, that is how Haymarket Square got its name.

By the 1820s, Haymarket had become the central place in Boston for local farmers and fishermen to sell their products to the hungry and bustling ethnic population that flooded the city in the 19th and 20th centuries.

I first discovered Haymarket in 1981 when my graduate school classmate took me there. As a poor and hungry grad student, any time someone told me about a bargain I would jump right on the opportunity.

haymarketWhen I got to Haymarket, I felt like I was back in a village market in Vietnam right in the middle of downtown Boston. I was surrounded with colors, yellow oranges, red tomatoes, green lettuce, white onions, and purple plums. I was consumed by the sounds of sellers and the fragrance of flowers and foods. People were literally sucking fresh oysters and clams for a buck. And even with the budget of poor students, we walked back to the T with two backpacks and four shopping bags filled with goodies that would feed a dozen hungry students for a week.

Many visitors have likened Haymarket to the old-fashioned open air markets of Europe and Asia, where each week brings different surprises and there is always a bargain to be had. New waves of immigrants sell products that often seemed exotic and especially delicious.

Over the years, the hawkers have slowly become more Asian and less Irish or Italian, though you can still get a tasty slice of pizza for $2 at Haymarket Pizza. These days you can also find Middle Easter and African spices and specialties for sale there.

Even today, I can still travel back in time and feel a part of a community. Many Fridays, I like to walk up and down the stalls of
Haymarket, just take in the sights, sounds, and smells.

haymarket9The Haymarket is open every Friday and Saturday year-round from dawn to dusk. It remains a throwback to earlier times, with vendors hawking their wares, making bargains with local buyers, and posing for pictures with tourists. Run by the Haymarket Pushcart Association, it is a place where small businesses thrive while contributing to the local economy.

Massachusetts produces a bounty of fruits and vegetables, meat and fish and dairy products that are readily available at local farmers markets, agricultural fairs and town squares. Our farmland accounts for over 523,000 acres of open space.

Here is a map of all farmers markets, fairs, and agricultural events in Massachusetts. In addition to farmers markets, the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism (MOTT) has compiled a Culinary Calendar for visitors and residents wishing to savor local food and beverages.