Saturday, 22 October 2011

The English Market - My Mecca

When I die, I want to have my ashes scattered at the English Market in Cork. Admittedly this may cause some problems for the stallholders and the place may get shut down....actually I haven't thought this through at all. Scrap that first sentence. But you get the sentiment right? 

I had the day off yesterday and instead of hanging around in boring old Dublin with nothing to do I took a trip down to Cork to visit my cousin who was there for one night only. She's very popular and in great demand and often in places for one night only so you have to catch her while you can. So off the bus I got at a very convenient lunch time and I was met by my lovely cousin who took us immediately in the direction of the market and the awesome Farmgate Cafe for lunch. It's rather telling that in my last few trips to Cork my very first port of call before anything else has been the Farmgate. I'm clearly very good at timing my arrivals around mealtimes and there really is no better option than this wonderful cafe. So it was there that we went yesterday.

My love affair with the English Market started at a very young age. My childhood was filled with frequent visits to the rebel city to visit the Cork cousins and the place truly was a home from home. On special occasions we would be taken to the Farmgate where I fell in love. With chocolate cake. Their chocolate fudge cake is, and always will be for me, the best there is. No doubt it's tied up with all sorts of food memories, not least of all when I was about 11 and allowed into the kitchen in the Farmgate restaurant in Midleton to help with the actual baking of said chocolate cake (a favour pulled in by my lovely aunt). I even got paid ten pounds for my days work. I couldn't believe they would actually let me in the kitchen never mind pay me to 'help' them make my favourite food in my favourite place. Madness, but that's what happened. I remember the day I got a whole cake for my birthday. I nearly died with excitement and then, having survived that, was almost pushed over the edge after devouring it all, but luckily I live to tell the tale. I also fell in love with their pickled cucumber and their salads, another one of those tastes that brings back such happy memories for me. Not to mention the shepherds pie, oh dear this list could go on forever. You get the idea. 

So the Farmgate was why I started going to the market. Back in the day I wasn't much into food shopping so the rest of the market probably passed me by a little and my memory is too bad to really be able to say how it was back in the day. But these days, I practically giggle with excitement every time I walk in. After our lunch yesterday we went for a little wander around. There's so much to explore. What I really, really love about it though is that it embodies everything a good market should be. It's steeped in history and it's function hasn't changed since it's foundation in the late 19th century. It is there to provide honest, good quality, fairly priced food to the people of the city. It provides a relatively affordable alternative to supermarket shopping and it fosters a sense of community. The fact that it does all this smack bang in the middle of the city centre makes is all the more special. It would have been so easy for the English Market to have allowed the foodie craze to get the better of it's community ideals. Yes it has all the fantastic foodie stalls like the cheese and the olives, and the speciality chocolates and macaroons, but it also has the iced bun concession and the cobblers and menders and the fantastic shop that sold every kitchen and baking accessory you could desire. Add to these with the butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers and it truly is a market that has it all. It doesn't leave anyone out. And that's why I love it. 

I'm a huge fan of market shopping but have been really struggling recently with the price that is usually charged at foodie markets whereby it seems that we are being sold a lifestyle and not just the food. I was so pleasantly surprised yesterday when we started to buy a few things to see that it was so reasonably priced. To be honest we thought we were being undercharged it was so good. We had decided to have a night in and wanted to pick up a few treats so we headed for the cheese shop. I couldn't believe it  when we came away with two hunks of cheese for just over 3 euro. We then got a sizeable bag of olives for 2 euro and looking around the veg stalls and butchers counters it did seem better value than I was expecting and something that could be used on a more regular basis than the prices of Dublin markets allow us to here. Maybe things are just cheaper generally in Cork, but I felt less like I was being ripped off in ages and it really encouraged me to spend more. Maybe this is a policy that should be adopted amongst our Dublin marketeers. The fact is if you feel like you're getting a bargain or a good deal you're likely to do more shopping. Sounds like good business to me.

loads of local produce on offer

specialty breads

doesn't it look so pretty?

anyone got a recipe for pig's heads?

yum and fancy....

....and across the way, old school
but still yum-can't go wrong with an iced bun

kitchen treasure trove

Paddy Joes Alterations - community businesses running alongside foodie heaven - genius

Perhaps in years to come the English Market will lose the more old fashioned stalls and it will change into something that is entirely more upmarket rather than the wonderful mix that it is right now, but for the moment it's about as perfect a market as you're going to get in Ireland or dare I say anywhere, and I only wish it were in Dublin.

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