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Dec. 18, 2014

Dosas, empanadas and a whole lot of intrigue

by Rohan Oprisko, Sports Editor
A mere five Metro stops on the Red Line from Silver Spring station, you can find Korean tacos, artisan olive oil, kale juice and plenty of hipsters. There are signs advertising the sale of fresh beef legs and crates full of “tuca,” or cactus fruit. A few hundred feet away, a modern building dominates one’s view. With a setting reminiscent of markets found in Europe and Africa, Union Market is a hidden gem of the DC food scene unknown to most Blazers.
Though it's been around for decades, many local residents have never been to Union Market. Hannah Rapp
Though it's been around for decades, many local residents have never been to Union Market.

The market, located in the up and coming neighborhood North of Massachusetts Avenue (NoMa) and is composed of older brick buildings, each with individual stores nestled into cubbies, and a centerpiece of a brand new white building with an indoor market. While in the older buildings, stores sell products ranging from produce and fresh meat to clothes and cell phone cases, the new building sells mostly food and other artisan products.

First opened as the Centre Market in 1871, Union Market has been around in some form for at least 200 years. Over time, the market deteriorated, to the point where in the 1980s, most of its vendors left the building to open stores in the suburbs. In 2012, Union Market went through another transformation as developers looking to reignite the old tradition constructed a brand new, white painted brick building.

Comprised of one restaurant and over 35 vendors, the new white building represents the future of markets. These artisan vendors vary from DC Empanadas, which serves empanadas with unique fillings such as BBQ pork; TaKorean, a stall that serves a fusion of Korean BBQ with Mexican tacos; to DC Dosa, a vegan Indian restaurant which serves indie Indian food, like dosas. Dosas are a Southern Indian staple made of lentil and rice pancakes with a vegetable filling, accompanied by chutney. Not only are there mini eateries scattered throughout the market, but there is also is a fishmonger, an artisan olive oil store, a bakery, a pickle store and a charcuterie among other niche stalls.
The facade of Union Market's grand modern centerpiece. Hannah Rapp
The facade of Union Market's grand modern centerpiece.

But that’s not all. In addition to this bustling market, there is an upstairs level in the building which plays host to a series of events, like yoga every Sunday. This level also hosts unique events such as the DC Scoop competition, in which a variety of ice cream vendors from around the city give free samples to attendees, aiming to win the title of Best Ice Cream. There is also an outside area with picnic tables and a vintage-looking food truck which sells beverages.

In comparison with the gleaming new structure, the older surrounding brick buildings give off a more down-to-earth vibe, as the majority have unattractive features and some are even plastered with signs in Arabic, Chinese and Korean. This different atmosphere encountered in all of the cubbie stores in the brick building allow them to be special in their own way. One store specializes in Latin-American produce, another specializes in halal certified meat, and another store even sells avocado soap for one dollar. Because it’s that time of year, the stores are the ideal places for Christmas shopping because the products are endless and the deals can’t be beat, no matter what Walmart says.
Union Market is ringed by older outer buildings that add to its postmodern charm. Hannah Rapp
Union Market is ringed by older outer buildings that add to its postmodern charm.

Union Market has big plans for the future as developers are snatching more and more land in the area, with an intention to grow the area.

The vibe of an open air market is lost in a supermarket. Maybe it’s the pallid white lighting, the near perfect tiredness and neatness or the large spaces--but something is missing. At Union Market, whether shopping among the old brick buildings or wining and dining in the gleaming new white building, this vibe of high end living for cheap is not lost in any translation and develops into an almost-comforting kind of atmosphere.

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