Baltimore. From the walk to the Owing Mills subway station, I could tell that the demographics had changed significantly relative to where I’d been staying for the past 5 weeks. It was an interesting change.
Inner Harbor is a must-see, said most of my helpful colleagues. That too, I reminded myself.
Primarily, it was the centuries-old Lexington Market that I’d been looking forward to, here in Baltimore. Well, for the seafood, of course. The market gets packed during lunch. Stepping into the market in the morning, I shouldn’t be too excited just yet. Vendors were still busy preparing for the lunch crowd, although some displays were already filled with fried chicken, hotdogs and some Asian stuff. From afar, I managed to locate Faidley’s, the infamous big lump crabcake shop. Unlit, but rightfully so since it was only 10 am. There’s still a sizeable selection of breakfast to choose from. Ignoring the sushis and chow meins, I was left with some hotdog stalls and the Harbor City Bake Shop, where the longest queue was. I couldn't even catch a glimpse of the food as the display was blocked by the massive crowd. Certainly, I just had to join in the fun.
I surprised myself with the selection - a glazed donut (the first in my 7 weeks here, can you believe it!), a cinnamon twist and a large (almost a quarter, I believe) piece of carrot cake. There’s a good reason why Harbor City is an attraction here. The food's decent and they come really affordable. The soft carrot cake was heavy on the cinnamon, brown sugar and cream. In other words, very American. That's nice.
It’s easy to get around with the day-pass in Baltimore, although I must say that the Inner Harbor is still some distance from the nearest subway station. But it’s not a confusing walk. Just go towards I.M. Pei’s pentagonal World Trade Centre, which is placed right at the centre of the harbor.
The day must have hit a high of 38 deg C (yet again). There were 2 ways to cool it off – jump into the Chesapeake Bay (I'm not even sure if that's allowed) or just grab a cooling cup of Italian Ice from Rita's. I chose the passion fruit flavour.
As kids, we used to play baseball back in our kampung. The bat’s made of a broken broomstick while the baseball was an almost worn-out tennis ball that we’d picked up somewhere. A homerun’s fine but it was the pleasure of hitting your opponents hard with the ball that was most gratifying.
We were so close to experiencing a real (and professional) baseball game at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles (a Major League Baseball team) was to play later in the evening. Sadly, we couldn’t afford the time. Streams of stalls selling souvenirs (mostly in shades of orange – the Orioles’ colour) and grills and beers were beginning to form as we left the stadium. Ah, next time!
The Baltimore Light Rail took us back to Lexington Market for lunch, where the locals and tourists had just started thronging.
And there was Bob Marley's Stir It Up.
A jam session was taking place at the center court. The predominantly American-Caribbean crowd was having a good time swaying to the cool reggae beats. If I must choose, this was the most memorable moment for me, here in Baltimore.
Faidley's crabcake shop was still not up. What?! A closer inspection showed a notice that it was closed for (I believe) the current owners' 52nd wedding anniversary. Bless them but my life was over at this point.
That thought didn't last long, surely. Look, I've driven more than 200 km to get here, got baked in the sun for hours and STILL haven't had any Maryland crab yet. Absurd, isn't it? I had to make sure that I don't leave the market feeling like a loser. Or hungry. And just like that, the beast unleashed.
Smacked right in the middle of the Faidley enclave is the iconic Raw Bar. I had half a dozen of their premium-sized, shucked oysters. Sublimely fresh, these. And they were great with a Bud Light. I got myself some Baltimore steamed crabs too. Cooked in vinegar and beer, you can imagine the combustion of flavours in the meat. But that's not all. It's actually the Old Bay seasoning that gives it the punch. Fortified with loads of herbs and spices (including bay leaf, peppers, paprika, 5-spice), the taste was complex, aromatic and appetizing. There was no hint of sugar in the mix but it worked wonderfully with the natural sweetness of the crabs.
There's more than one big lump crabcake stall in Lexington Market, of course. As we headed for the subway station, I spotted a couple and decided to have one for the road. And it was good. A simple squeeze of lemon provided a nice cut to the rich taste of baked sweet chunks crab meat. Just to confirm, I asked the bouffant-capped owner with fine upper lip hair if this was a jumbo lump crabcake. That's right, dear, she said. Cool.