Orient Market Brings Fresh Produce and Meat to Boise's Bench 

Exploring the Saturday morning market, before it's picked clean

Every Saturday morning, far from the stroller and canvas tote bag mayhem of Boise's downtown farmers markets, another market pops up quietly on the Boise Bench. Beginning at 8 a.m., the Orient Market parking lot off Emerald and Orchard streets fills up with cars and an assortment of families file into the well-lit store.

Inside, the formerly fallow produce aisle now teems with unfamiliar fresh vegetables, fruits and roots. In the refrigerator case, plastic bags are stuffed with leafy greens like sweet potato leaves, watercress and red shen choy. On the top shelf, there's a collection of smaller bags filled with fresh spices--fresh curry leaves, Thai basil, fresh bay leaves. Across the aisle, rows of open cardboard boxes boast roped bundles of Chinese long beans, pointed purple banana blossoms and spiky India bitter melons. There's even a box of thorny durians--the fruit famous for its stinky, custard-y pulp.

And things get even stranger when you head to the meat counter in the back of the store. Dozens of metal trays rest on a bed of crushed ice. Inside, there's an almost theatrically gruesome array of animal bits--severed pink pork snouts and ears, beef bones sawed into hunks, fresh chicken feet and even pork uteri.

Orient Market Owner Hoa Ta said the store sends a truck to Los Angeles every week to pick up this bountiful shipment. One of his most popular items is the whole fish.

"We do a lot of fresh fish--red snapper, tilapia, tuna, mackerel, yellowtail," said Ta, gesturing toward a colorful assortment of fish, their heads peeking out from beneath an avalanche of ice.

On a recent Saturday morning, the store's truck had broken down en route to Boise and Ta stood at the store's entrance instructing disappointed customers to come back later.

"We don't have veggies 'til 2 p.m. today," he told a young mom, pushing her baby toward the door in a shopping cart.

Sighing, she turned the cart around and headed back to the car. Word soon spread like wildfire around the parking lot and the cars departed as quickly as they had arrived. By 4 p.m. that afternoon, the late shipment of fresh produce, fish and meats had already been picked over. Which goes to show, whether it's the farmers market or the Orient Market, it pays to get there early.

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