It’s almost lunchtime in the Nation’s Capital and Union Market is buzzing. The fit moms, you know, the ones who use their babies and strollers as workout equipment, are enjoying iced coffees and conversations after their morning workout. Their infant babies are beginning to move in their strollers because their stomachs are telling them to tell their mothers that it’s time to eat.
While there’s only one thing on the menu for the young babies, the construction workers in line at Sloppy Mama’s Barbeque have to make some difficult decisions: ribs, pulled pork, or smoked brisket.
I’ve had Sloppy Mama’s before. She’s not a cheap date, but she’s worth it. I’m on a different mission today, though. I only have $4.10, and I want to see what I can get my hands on with less than five dollars. I should mention that three of those dollars are quarters, so that should make for a really awkward transaction at the counter.
Union Market, as it is called today, traces its origins back to 1871. Then called Centre Market, the market was a place for local vendors to sell meat, eggs and produce. In 1931, Centre Market moved from its original location (now the National Archives) to 4th Street and Florida Avenue NE, and changed names.
It’s new name was Union Terminal Market, because it was close to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Freight Terminal. I swear I’m not making this up. In 1962, the city banned the outdoor sale of meats and eggs (WTF DC?), which basically killed it for that location. In 1967, it’s new (and current) home was built. Which brings us to the present day, and me trying to eat lunch for $4.10.
Walking through Union Market you can’t help but smile at the incredible smells. Arepa Zone, and it’s amazing looking — and tasting — Venezuelan food catches my eye, but the prices are too high. I’ll be back, they already know me by name.
I can’t even look in the direction of Red Apron Butchery and their righteous sandwiches; they start at $7 and climb from there. I almost whip out the credit card for the “Porkstrami” because it isn’t sold out yet. It’s always sold out. I moved on. Fancier folks are sitting at Rappahannock Oyster Co. enjoying caviar and bivalves on the half-shell. Who eats caviar for lunch?
I knew a four dollar lunch would be difficult. After all, DC is one of the most expensive cities in the country. But there’s a dish that’s never expensive: tacos. With that, I make my way over to Takorean for some Korean fused tacos. I’m usually a steak taco guy, but a hefty $4.50 price tag puts those bad boys right outside of my range. Damn.
A separate anxiety is growing inside of me. Am I really going to pay for a meal with quarters? In the age of bitcoin, who uses quarters to pay for a food?
As I’m in line contemplating my order and payment method, the cashier asks me what will it be, and I reply “a single chicken taco with all the fixins’, please.” She pauses–I knew this would happen–and replies, “that’s it?”
I responded in the affirmative and she gives me my total, “$3.85 cents.” I reach for my backpack where my money and wallet was stashed and paid for my meal…
Yeah, I froze.
But damn was that taco good.