Agri Leader

Soaking up global culture at South Beach market

It's no secret that South Beach in Miami is today's go-to destination for beautiful people, beautiful sun, and jet-setters with beautiful bank accounts.

But before you write it off as a destination only suited for reality show wannabes, here's a tip - you might find some beautiful fresh produce and food there if you visit on Sundays.

During a visit to South Beach this month to cover a meeting, I made it over to the Lincoln Road Green Market, held on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Lincoln Road is a mostly car-free area with trendy restaurants and shops. The market's booths are housed between the outdoor restaurant tables that are endemic to South Beach. The market has been around since the mid-1990s and is run by The Market Company, which operates eight similar markets around Miami.

What's unique about the Lincoln Road market compared to other farmers markets I've visited is its multicultural feel. My friend and I started our market stroll by getting smoothies. She got the Popeye, complete with mango, pineapple, orange juice, and, of course, spinach. I got a smoothie with papaya, pineapple and mango - much more south of the border than a smoothie I might make at home.

The vendor had her fruits and veggies pre-cut, and she loaded items into her blender or food processor. You could also custom pick your smoothie's fruits and veggies or select smoothies with names like Green Me, Perfect Tan, or Back to Life (which I'm guessing many people in South Beach need after hard partying on Saturday night).

From the next vendor, we ordered empanadas, which are essentially turnovers filled with items like chicken, pork, beef, or cheese. I ordered one with tomato and cheese (very pizza-y), while my friend had the chicken one. The smoothies and the empanadas were our breakfast, along with the samples we got from Nisha's Flavors of India, a Pembroke Pines-based business that does catering. After inquiring about my food preferences and tolerance for spicy foods, the vendor was very generous with his samples, whetting our appetite with about seven or eight different chutneys and sauces atop naan (a yummy flat whole wheat Indian bread) and paratha (a bread filled with lentils and potato). The samples convinced me to buy $25 worth of take-home paratha, naan, vegetarian samosas, and a sweet tomato sauce called bhaji.

As my friend and I perused the market, we passed more booths for smoothies, empanadas, and Peruvian ceviche ("That better taste good," said my friend, who is from Peru and is proud of her country's popular cuisine), teas, olive oils and vinegars, and honey from the Keys. There were also a few arts and flowers vendors.

I'm pretty sure we heard Spanish more often than English when we walked around the market. Vendors usually asked if they should speak in English or Spanish to us.

I've seen the Lincoln Road market called both a Green Market and a Farmers Market. Truthfully, at least during our visit, there weren't many farmers. However, I've written before how finding farmers for farmers markets in Florida isn't always easy. There's an abundance of agriculture but many growers focus on the commercial business. I saw a handful of produce stands, but the biggest one appeared to be a reseller - and many of their items were labeled as coming from South America.

However, after eyeing some yellow heirloom tomatoes that I eventually bought, we befriended Manuel Lara, who operates the farm Wonders of Nature in Homestead. Lara specializes mostly in tropical fruits, including papaya, longans, lychees, rambutan, starfruit, mangoes, jackfruit, and guyabano, the latter of which is hailed for its power in killing cancer cells. For the record, a few of those fruit names were ones that I had never heard of before our visit.

Lara said his biggest sellers aren't tomatoes, strawberries, or citrus - all Florida produce staples. It's actually items like dragon fruit, sugar apples, and something called delicious monster or monstera deliciosa, which is native to Latin America. When that's in season in the summer, Lara said he can't keep enough of it on hand.

Lara also told us he custom grows green zebra heirloom tomatoes for a buyer who does cooking for a wealthy resident on nearby Star Island.