It’s called The Flea for short, the San Jose Flea Market, and perhaps the “Flea” part needs to be cut off, because it’s just a market, really, a huge one with a parking lot larger than the combined DeKalb Farmer’s Market and parking lot. It’s a bit larger than 4 city blocks, and the best part of it is the aisle of produce. It’s officially called Produce Row, it is quite a sight and alone is worth the trouble of getting there.

There is of course, more than  just produce. There are places to buy clothes, places to buy dolls and purses, used video games and inexpensive electronics. I saw two bands when I was there, playing music. There were a couple barber shops, places to get new audio in your car, art of various kinds. Places to eat were plentiful, but as we didn’t eat there, I’m not in a position to review them.

The Flea (San Jose Flea Market)
1590 Berryessa Road
San Jose, CA 95113

The DeKalb Farmer’s Market is the grand daddy of all the large markets in this city, and huge doesn’t begin to cover it.  It’s at the corner of Laredo and Ponce De Leon, and the entrance to De Kalb is one of the four ways you can go at that light.  The parking lot is about a block in size and as large as the lot is, it is equally as large inside. Once inside, there is a vast array of vegetables, about as ordered as any market could be, with the produce marked by country of origin, name, and with a drawing of the produce to boot.

The wines, two aisles of them, are separated by country of origin and type. In between the wine are stacks of beers, everything from Miller Light to Belgian ales. Grains and beans? Just to look at two examples, they had red, green, yellow, brown, and French green (a smaller variety) lentils, along with whole mung beans, and plenty of dals. Quinoa? Not only did they have the white and red varieties, but also wild black quinoa, not seen anywhere else that I’ve looked. Nuts and candied fruits are available in large quantities, neatly sealed in plastic bags.

They have good breads, and one thing I bought the day I was here was a sack full of whole wheat rolls. They were tasty and chewy once I got them home, just perfect. Just past the breads and vegetables is the fish section, which in my opinion is the very best part of this store. When my wife is after the freshest fish she can get, she comes here. She comes here because of the selection of live fish, and the ease with which this place can clean those fish. Perhaps something compares in this city, but I haven’t found it yet.

Meats are past the fish, and they serve a startling variety of product. Besides fine beef, you can get rabbit here, quail and cornish hens, duckling, goat from Australia, and lamb from Colorado. You can get bison, if you want it. A selection of fine cheeses is nearby, slices off large wheels, and the dairy section, also nearby, has items unavailable anywhere else.

Before I do nothing but sing praises to this place, I’ll note a few downsides. It is full of people and often cramped here, more so in the smaller aisles. There are shoppers who park in those narrow aisles with their flock of full grown kids for eternity it seems, blocking everything. If you take a cart inside, PUT SOMETHING IN IT IMMEDIATELY. If you do not, your cart will be taken. Though this is an international market, with international vegetables, it is not a particularly good Asian market, and Asian staples like Asian (often called “Korean”) yams just aren’t here. Go to Super H Mart for those kinds of goods. Meats tend to be pricey and if you want cheap meats, a market like Lilburn International Farmer’s Market is a better choice.

Still, there is nothing like it in the city, and it comes with the highest of recommendations.

From Snellville, perhaps the fastest way to this market would be to head down 78, then south on 285, and take the Ponce De Leon exit westward. An alternative path is to take 78 to Scott Boulevard, Scott down to Clairmont Ave. Head south, and take Clairmont until it ends at Ponce De Leon (hang a left when Clairmont ends). If you get forced left on Commerce, just keep going. It runs into Ponce De Leon as well.

Don’t let the outside of Buford Highway Farmer’s Market fool you. I have avoided this place for the longest time because it’s a little tricky to get into and the parking lot, on weekends, always looks like a crazy mess. The building is older and I was just shy of the place. But a coworker of mine, Veronica, told me she does all her meat shopping there, and that it was inexpensive. I had nothing to lose, so I stopped by there today.

It was surprisingly neat and clean. The classic farmer’s market in town is a little cramped, with produce fighting for space with other produce, with boxes stacked here and there. Not here. Except for the older floors, the cleanliness approached a suburban supermarket. Produce was cheap and cleanly labeled. Aisles were not cramped, they were spacious and wide.

In the produce section, I bought some garlic, some beautiful red cherry peppers (triangular shaped though), a couple peppers called a long hot pepper, some green onions, and some tomatillos, so perhaps we can try Innocent Primate’s salsa verde sometime.

Tomatillos, cheery peppers, long hot peppers and other produce from Buford Highway.

Tomatillos, cherry peppers, long hot peppers and other produce from Buford Highway.

In the back there was a bakery (with freshly wrapped stacks of tortillas) and a butcher shop. Prices were lower than the equivalent supermarket items. There were a lot more organ meats than you would find in a typical store – beef hearts and pork hearts, pigs feet and other organ meats. There were fish swimming in tanks, ready to be sold (or filleted). Fish already packaged was clearly labeled with the place it came from. But I wasn’t here for fish, for the most part. I was looking at legumes and grains.

This is an international market, and in this instance, the origin of the groceries was divided on an aisle by aisle basis and clearly labeled. I’ll note that you can get red lentils in the Hispanic aisle, along with various sizes of green lentils. In the American aisle, there were at least four different brands of beans. And unlike Publix, the N. K. Hurst products here (we have spoken of N. K. Hurst before) are competitively priced with all the other vendors.

Most interesting to me was the Indian foods aisle. This is the closest place I’ve found for bulk Indian dals and bulk Indian spices (most supplied by a Houston company, Spicy World of USA, Inc). In this section they have standard green lentils, brown lentils (masoor dal whole), and black lentils (urad or urid dals). Others dals include moong dals (mung bean based), chana dals (chick peas), kala chana (black chickpeas), and mahdi toor dals. They have garam masala in bulk, along with a variety of other spices. They have a version of sambar powder, which if I recall correctly was prized back in my school days for cooking vegetables.

Buford Highway Farmer's Market on Urbanspoon

After shopping here, I headed north up the street to a placed called the White Windmill Bakery and Cafe. I had been wanting to stop there because the place just looks fantastic from the outside. So I managed to pull over this time and took a peek inside. It’s a Korean bakery, by Koreans and largely for Koreans.  The store has a counter with sweets, rows of breads, and several tables to sit. In terms of foods, I saw fancy coffee and tea,  quality chocolates, exquisite tarts (but around $5.00 each), beautiful small cakes. My wife likes bean curd sweets, so I found a red bean curd bun for my wife and then got a cream bun for my daughter. I’ll have to tell you later what they thought of them.

White Windmill Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon