Article by Yvonne Gill, a former expat now embracing the burbs of Portland.
Luring Portlanders from blocks away, the aroma of local talent spurred my family’s quest for organic inspiration. The ambrosial scents of fresh cuisine motioned my steps alongside a neighboring crowd on the same mission. Soon enough, the smells accompanied melodies and I heard the faint sounds of guitar strings, which strengthened as I stepped closer. I arrived and immediately meandered the stalls, absorbing the burst of raw colors and upbeat live tunes. Artisans and farmers rally, showcasing the fruits of their labor and quenching Portland’s craving for our farm-to-table approach. The sea of options provides either the genesis of one’s meal, fare ready to be savored or its gratifying accompaniments.
The creative displays halted my steps from stand to stand. Rather early in the morning, I did not expect to sample coffee liquor, but nonetheless enjoyed its smooth and distinct flavor, bound for a cozy nightcap. Friendly chatter with the woman from House Spirits Distillery, coupled with the notable tasting; I was easily coerced that this was the missing piece to our bar cabinet at home.
Not too far were wild and fragrant flower bouquets, welcoming a pop of spring in anyone’s home. Continuing on to samples of cheese, vinegar, vegetables, cookies or even soaps; some were too good to pass up while other vendors esteemed organic with a rather steep price tag.
Lunchtime neared and our most difficult decision of the day was the style of cuisine in which to indulge. Forever a fan of crêpes, C’est Si Bon immediately caught my eye. A long line indicated its popularity and I soon knew why. Deciding to dabble in a variety of their menu, my family ordered an assortment of crêpes, all filled with fresh ingredients including my favorite, mushrooms in a savory sauce. As we waited, I sparked a conversation with the American man behind the French pancakes.
Curiously interesting, John’s anecdotes richened the flavor of his craft as he told his story of America to France and now Portland. With his French wife, they resided in Paris for several years, then later Bordeaux after the birth of their daughter. Currently they raise their children here in town. The culture woven into his food transported me to southern France, as his technique showcased a history of tradition and flavors.
John poured the crêpe batter on its hot plate and naturally moved the spreader, perfecting its density and size. With ease, he mastered our lunch while we engaged in a quick banter en français after I mentioned I was once a French teacher. Eventually continuing in English, he explained his values of French education, the benefit of a multilingual home and conviction that a price cannot be put on the fulfillment of travel.
He invited us to visit his restaurant, C’est Si Bon in northeast Portland, where he expands his proficiency in French cuisine and wine, encouraging our children to join. After we said “au revoir,” passerbys stopped to ask from which stand they could find the eye candy in our hands. We dove into our crêpes, sharing the medley amongst ourselves. The flavors further deepened my fervor for an adventure behind my food. Culture was locked in every ingredient and depicted the taste of an afternoon in France.
Food tastes much better with a history behind its fruition and many vendors are eager to share their story. Portland is lucky to have farmers markets sprinkled throughout the city and its suburbs alike. A wonderful experience for anyone, we are welcomed to further appreciate the roots of Portland’s gastronomic feat.
Yvonne Gill is a former American expat who spent time in Brisbane, Australia and Lyon, France. Her experiences ignited a wanderlust mentality, which keeps her dreaming about where in the world to explore next; or more realistically, how to travel at home through a book, movie, restaurant, or activity and she writes about it all onybexpat.com. She currently resides just outside of Portland with her husband and two young children.