Trail Of The Unexpected: Portland, Oregon

Market forces in a city where fresh is always best

The girl leans forward excitedly, comic-book thick, indie-kid specs slipping down her nose, tattoos peeking out from behind the crisp white collar of her waiter's jacket as she cranes over the trolley. "See, this one has notes of truffles – oh, it's amazing – and this one is a goat's milk – so tangy – and this one here, the Crater Lake Blue: it's local, very robust, won a bunch of awards..."

We're in Bluehour, one of the swankiest of a smorgasbord of impressive Portland restaurants, and our fromager looks like she should be in a punk band. She also couldn't be more enthusiastic about cheese. And after a few days in this town, that doesn't even seem weird anymore.

They're bonkers about food in Portland. Take the heady brew of self-satisfaction and culinary stimulation oozing through a London farmers' market, multiply it by about a billion, chuck in a hefty dose of guileless sincerity, and you'll still be only halfway to comprehending just how Portlanders feel about eating.

It helps that the city is surrounded by farmland, by orchards of apples and cherries, fields of berries and hops. Lush, temperate Oregon grows 50 per cent of the nation's pears and 99 per cent of its hazelnuts (the latter being the official "state nut"); Portland is the largest shipper of wheat in the country. A grand public market was included in the original plans for the city, back in the 1850s; its incarnation in the Thirties was the largest farmers' market in the world.

For all that, Oregon was not immune to the post-war allure of supermarkets and shiny packaging. When the not-for-profit Portland Farmers Market started Saturday trading in 1992, they had just 13 vendors. Now there are 250, four weekly downtown locations, and sales in excess of $5m (£2.9m). Statewide, 90 farmers' markets serve a population of just 3.5 million. For many, shopping at market has become a Saturday ritual: bands play, chefs dazzle and children take cookery classes, while fresh corn grills on barbecues, berry pancakes are whipped up and pumpkins are carved.

The spread varies according to the season, of course. When not drinking coffee (considered an essential food group), riding their bikes (more, per capita, than any other city in the US) or starting another band, Portlanders bang on about the importance of FLOSS: fresh, local, organic, sustainable, seasonal. You'll be sick of hearing those words by the time you leave – though your palate, health and general sense of cozy community wellbeing will have reaped the benefits.

Even the fast food here is in on the act. The Burgerville chain, operating across Oregon and neighbouring Washington State, serves locally reared, antibiotic-free beef, North Pacific halibut and chips, and seasonal smoothies and milkshakes. Oh, and each of their 39 outlets runs on 100 per cent wind power, composts its waste, and converts used cooking oil into biodiesel.

Beyond the burgers, recommending the best Portland restaurants is like trying to spot the ideal grain of sand on a beach (which are pretty spectacular in these parts, by the way, all tumbling cliffs and white sands). Portland is young and, for lack of a less annoying word, hip, and the city's young, hip residents seem keen to outdo each other in the culinary arts. Creative fine dining is commonplace. Coffee shops are rife, sushi bars a staple. As laid-back unconventionality is also highly valued by Portlanders – getting tattooed appears to be a civic duty – you can eat fresh fish tacos while watching a movie, or, should you so wish, get married in a donut shop.

And then there's the booze. There are currently 32 breweries in Portland, more than in any other city in the US. You can sample local whiskeys, brandies and unconventionally flavoured vodkas, or visit the country's only sake distillery. Most have tasting rooms; many host art shows and gigs, too.

There are also more than 300 wineries in the state. Having learnt that Oregon Pinot Noir has beaten its French forebear in blind tastings, we hire a driver to tour the Willamette Valley, right on Portland's doorstep. Our driver has the shoulders of a gym devotee, and the conversational manner of Joey from Friends. Except that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of wine, and it doesn't seem like this appreciation is part of his job. How did this muscleman get so into the grape? "Well," he says, and I recognise the rising tide of excitement that I've seen flooding so many Portland faces, "I started dabbling with local wines in the late Eighties. Then I got this 1992 Adelsheim – I tell you what, it knocked my socks off."

The state-run Oregon Farmers' Markets Association website reads: "Oregon farmers' markets, bringing Oregonians together to enjoy and support Oregon's agricultural bounty."

Fortunately, like toddlers eager to spread the love with their first paintings, Oregonians are far too excited to keep the state's culinary creations to themselves. Over the next couple of months, the state will be awash with harvest festivals: with apple picking, grape crushing and beer tastings galore. Local people will be out in force, but visitors are quite welcome, too.

www.travelportland.com. www.portlandfarmersmarket.org. www.willamettevalleyvineyards.com. www.hoodriverfruitloop.com. Bluehour, 250 NW 13th Avenue (001 503 226 3394; www.bluehouronline.com). www.burgerville.com

State lines: Oregon

Population 3.5 million
Area 12 times the size of Wales
Capital Salem
Date in Union 14 February 1859
Flower Oregon Grape
Motto "She flies with her own wings"
Nickname Beaver State

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
News
Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey
peopleBut who comes top of the wish list?
News
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, right, with Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds in Newtown, Powys, as part of her tour in support of the party’s female candidates
general electionNick Clegg's wife has impressed during the campaign
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living