Hester Rito doesn’t expect that many people will arrive at Saturday’s Freret Market with bacon-wrapped duck poppers specifically written on their holiday shopping lists. But she’s still pretty sure she’ll sell a bunch of them.
“It’s the impulse buy,” said Rito, whose Slidell-based Any Occasion Catering is among a plethora of vendors slated to be on hand for the market. “People are shopping for others, but it’s a quick way to indulge a little.”
This is a banner week for outdoor holiday markets around New Orleans, and between all the booths selling art, jewelry, kitchenware and countless fleur de lis-emblazoned craft items, hungry shoppers will find plenty of spur-of-the-moment temptation to treat themselves.
Crepes are griddled up to order from both the well-known Crepes a la Cart (at multiple markets) and the newer Crepe Cart (at Piety Street Market), baked potato wedges are topped with vegan chili for a lighter form of fries from 3 Potato 4 (at the Arts Market of New Orleans), and there’s the familiar allure of shrimp po-boys from Direct Select Seafood (at multiple markets), to name just a few of the options on offer this weekend.
Art and craft markets grow more numerous and festive as Christmas nears, and some have become veritable street food bazaars with local restaurants, caterers and festival food specialists setting up shop between the retail booths.
At the Freret Market, for instance, vendors of hot food (to eat on the spot) and prepared foods (for pantry staples and gifts) now make up about a quarter of the total vendors.
“This has always been part market, part festival and part neighborhood hang, and food fits with each piece of that,” said Michelle Ingram, co-founder of the Freret Market. “It’s a symbiotic relationship with the other vendors. Having food means people seek us out for a meal and others may stay longer and shop more once they have a snack.”
Freret Market hosts its annual holiday-themed market Freretstivus on Saturday, the same day that Piety Street Market holds its Yule-a-Palooza event in the Bywater. The Arts Market of New Orleans returns to Uptown’s Palmer Park on Dec. 13 and Dec. 14. And to start things off, on Wednesday, Dec. 10, the Harrison Avenue Marketplace brings its gathering of gifts, art and food to Lakeview (see sidebar for details).
Some of the food vendors are already familiar names from the city’s yearround events circuit, like Bratz Y’all, where Berlin native Sven Vorkauf serves sandwiches in the style of his homeland. Sausages heaped with sauerkraut on crusty rolls are joined by regional specialties like besoffenes schweinefleisch, or “the drunken pig,” his take on a traditional beer-basted roasted pork.
Bratz Y’all and Crepes a la Cart, another prolific festival food vendor, are both fielding three markets during this busy shopping week, dispatching different crews to staff multiple events simultaneously. The profusion of holiday markets is an end-of-the-year bonus of sorts for food vendors, many of whom say their business otherwise slackens between the fall and spring festival seasons.
For others, especially those just breaking into the festival food game, access to motivated holiday shoppers at these markets is an opportunity to test ideas and build a following. For instance, Black Swan Food Experience was started earlier this year by chef Nikki Wright and Shana Turner to explore Thai, Caribbean and Creole flavors. Avocado salsa, Thai noodle salad and jerk tofu pecan have been early hits.
“You have such a diverse crowd with a wide range of palates,” said Turner, whose stand will be at the Freretstivus market on Saturday. “The great part is so many people are coming for different reasons. As a vendor, you’re not responsible for drawing the whole crowd, but some of them will give you a try.”
Held in different neighborhoods, these markets offer varying approaches, from the juried art selection at the Arts Market of New Orleans to the more freewheeling Piety Street Market, where vintage clothing and flea market finds are part of the line up. But at each venue, organizers say, food has become an integral part of building a festive atmosphere and contribute to the central appeal of these markets.
“It’s the idea of something that’s handmade and local that’s part of the draw,” said Piety Street Market founder Cree McCree. “People are coming here for a different experience than the mall. They’re looking for something unique.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.