By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
There is, to my mind, no finer way to while away a few hours on a Sunday than strolling through a flea market. You're getting fresh air and a little exercise; you're viewing the detritus of popular culture in what amounts to a vast ephemeral museum; and you just might stumble across an object (or two, or 12) that you can't live without. (At a price you can live with.)
But until I moved to the Bay Area I didn't think of flea markets as places of gastronomic delight. (They're called marché aux puces, after all, not mangé aux puces!) I liked going to a restaurant after certain markets in L.A., where my friend Bill and I could unwrap and gloat over our finds in comfort, at Pie 'n Burger in Pasadena or Dale's Diner in Long Beach. There's something about buying food at flea markets that feels counterintuitive to me: Even if I've spent $150 on dinner the night before, spending five bucks on something that'll be gone in a couple of minutes when that same sum, applied a few steps away, can buy me a perfectly nice vase that will last forever (it's already been around for 50 or 60 years, anyway) seems extravagant. And handing over that five bucks without saying, "Would you take four?" feels wrong somehow. Which is why I also have difficulty with eBay: I'm used to offering less rather than more.
Another difficulty I had with eBay early on was fear that it would destroy the flea market as we know it. Why would people continue to box up their treasures, drive them miles away in the hours before dawn, unpack them, deal with the public for hours in sometimes unpleasant weather, and then haul back what was left at the end of the day, when they could scan a few photos into their computers and wait for the money to roll in from the millions rather than thousands of eyes able to view the stuff?
Shrimp salad sandwich $5
Fried calamari and fries $6
Alemany Flea Market
Panorama Baking Co.
Thai Buddhist Temple
Fried chicken with sticky rice $4
Papaya salad $4
Khanom krug $3 Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire, W. Atlantic & Ferry Point, Alameda, (510) 522-7500. Open the first Sunday of every month, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: low.
Ole's Waffle Shop, 1507 Park (at Lincoln), Alameda, (510) 522-8108. Open Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Reservations accepted for parties of six or more. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: moderate.
Alemany Flea Market, 100 Alemany (at Crescent), 647- 9423. Open Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 9X, 23, 24, 67. Noise level: low.
Berkeley Flea Market, Ashby & Martin Luther King Jr., Berkeley, (510) 644-0744. Open Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: moderately difficult. Noise level: low.
Thai Buddhist Temple, 1911 Russell (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley, (510) 849-3419. Open Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: moderately difficult. Noise level: moderate.
Luckily it turns out that there are dealers out there who enjoy human contact as much as flea market shoppers do. And there is no better showcase for their hardy kind than the excellent Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire (www.antiquesbythebay.net), familiarly known as the Alameda flea market, which takes place every Sunday at the Alameda Point Naval Air Station, a plot of land blessed with unlimited free parking and a singularly stunning view of San Francisco across the bay.
The first time I visited Alameda, I was too overwhelmed by the number of dealers and the depth of my own need (bookcases, end tables, maybe something that would serve as a TV stand) to do much more than take in the interesting array of food stands, lined up along one side of the market. The lines at the little huts were long, and I wanted to spend all my time shopping (even though I could tell they were moving along quickly, and I was a bit jealous of the happy shiny people strolling away with enormous, tempting-looking sausages or paper cartons piled with fried calamari). I was thrilled with the green-painted glass-topped deco table I found (which the dealers kindly delivered when it proved too big for the back seat I'd optimistically fancied it would fit into). Ron and I celebrated, after, with big egg breakfasts at Ole's Waffle House ("since 1927"), the kind of preserved-in-amber coffee shop that is not only a perfect example of its type, but is also great for continuing the timeless feeling induced by serious perusal of the leavings of decades past.
But on subsequent trips to the Faire, the lure of those sausages, that calamari, was too strong. And even though I'd just paid $5 for a sweet little green rocking chair (missing a splat), the same $5 didn't seem too much for the huge, almost obscene-looking smoked Dakota bratwurst on a bun that is the big attraction at the Lockeford Sausage stand. (The company manufactures 26 varieties of sausages at its main plant in Lockeford, in the Central Valley, and the bratwurst is a sterling example of its skill: nicely textured and bursting with juices under its crisply grilled casing.)
I was at the market another Sunday with Joyce, and she stood in line at the Indonesian stand, waiting for a $6 plate of pan-fried noodles, chicken satay, and the egg roll known as lumpia, while I was next door at Taylor's Seafood, trying to decide among deep-fried calamari, prawns, oysters, catfish, garlic fries, onion rings, mushrooms, and zucchini. Or tempting-looking crab salad and shrimp salad sandwiches. I ended up with a combination plate of oysters and prawns and, what the hell, threw in a shrimp sandwich. The large, bullet-shaped oysters were not a success (the thick coating seemed overdone, and the oysters inside oddly underdone), but everything else was delightful -- especially the unusually good shrimp salad, a generous helping of the rosy beasts mixed with mayonnaise, chopped celery, diced red onion, and capers, stuffed inside a fresh bakery roll. It seemed an even bigger bargain than the green tile painted with bamboo I'd picked up for about the same amount. And we enjoyed sitting at one of the picnic tables overlooking the bay, discussing our purchases of both foodstuffs and other stuff with the folks dining alongside us.