Sunday, 11 March 2012

The English Market

What a place! The atmosphere there was electric and one full of trade and enjoyment. The stallholders dealt with their many customers with a genuine smile and deftness that I am sure was honed over many years of hard work and skillful handling of goods. What impressed me the most was the emphasis on local, home-grown produce and the pride stallholders had for it. Everyone I spoke to was very knowledgeable about their food and were more than happy to give me advice on how best to prepare or eat it.

It is easy to say that the market is dominated by Irish producers and craftsmen but it has also given way to some foreign influence. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, as the dialogue between both Irish recipes and produce and that of other countries is what keeps gastronomy bright and interesting. Influences can be seen from France, the Mediterranean, India and Eastern Europe both in separate stalls and in the Irish ones too.
In terms of space the market was quite labyrinthine with one spacious double-height foyer and small crowded ‘streets’ off of that. The only word I could possible use to describe the place was medieval. The narrow busy streets were crowded enough and it was almost like a fight to get served at a stall. This really added to the experience as there was a bit of chat and banter amongst customers and stallholders alike and it reflected just how much in demand this great produce was.

How was the food you ask? Silly question really, this is the English Market we are talking about here. Amazing is your answer, in short. You could really tell how much these producers cared about their goods. Take for example the food from Frank Hederman’s smokehouse based in Cork. His stall sold the most wonderful smoked salmon, mussels in a kind of vinaigrette, smoked mackerel and various other delicious smoked goods.

What hooked me was his technique of using beech smoke to flavour the fish. The smoke had a delicious, heady aroma and added a wonderful, distinct smoky taste to the food. This truly was someone who knew how to smoke their fish!
The English Market is probably so successful because of a happy meeting of several positive factors.  First opened at the end of the 1700s, it mainly served the wealthy of Cork. As time passed and economics began to change, it has become the market we have today that serves everyone who has an appreciation of great food. Having established itself as a beacon of quality food, the English Market has created a unique tradition in the city for the appreciation of wonderful produce. Perhaps it is its long historical presence in the city that has conditioned people there to know about and want good quality, local produce. As this type of food has become more and more in demand, it has forced stallholders to raise their standards to cater for the dining public’s ever growing tastes. This has encouraged a healthy competition amongst stallholders as an attempt to grab the customers’ attention and of course, money! The competition between stallholders has really raised the standards of the food being produced, far higher than I’ve ever seen elsewhere and has resulted in the beautiful displays we see today.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the English Market. The atmosphere of trade and banter was great. You really got a sense that the people here really knew about and appreciated their food. The well-stocked stalls provided me with endless inspiration for dishes to come and the great advice from stallholders would easily encourage you to get cooking! The English Market truly is a great place for the foodie and I would encourage you to visit it if ever you were in the city.

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