Chit-chat – Rüttenscheider market, Essen / Germany

  • The fountain at the market
    The fountain at the market

Essen is part of the Ruhrgebiet a former coal and steel area and as some feel: the (industrial) heartland of Germany. People are recognized to be straight forward, honest and having a rough humour. The region is not recognized as being an epicentre of fine cuisine. Basically I came to Essen with a full horn of prejudices. After the visit I had to revisit my opinions –  and the Rüttenscheider market which is older than 100 years helped in this process.

Overcoming prejudices

It was a sunny Saturday when I came by the market, which makes everything look better and invites to be very relaxed. And so was the crowd. People were chatting with vendors back and forward, teasing each other to find the spot for a good laughter. Honestly I had never seen so many vendors and customers chatting in such humorous way like at this market. It was a listening feast. People seemed to know each other and lived it up.

The choice on the market is very wide and surprisingly international: Italian and French quality produce were available as well as fresh ones from the area. This quality orientation seems to show that there must be some people in the area enjoying cooking in a more sophisticated way.

And as a reference to the origins of the regions a field kitchen – often called goulash canon in Germany – served hearty stews with sausages like Mettwurst. Popular with young and old. Unfortunately I was already invited for lunch.

The high quality stalls

What surprised me was the good number of high quality produce. Great selections of French, German and Italian produce, sausages, hams, bread and the like.

One stall had high quality veggies and fruit only originating from France. This was a first to me when it comes to German markets. The vendor has even an office at the famous wholesale market Rungis near Paris, so that the quality and freshness can be guaranteed. This premium quality demands premium prices, and he seemed to make a good living out of this business.

A stall with Italian sausages, hams etc. is not an uncommon sight at German markets, the choice here at the Rüttenscheider market was remarkable, one could almost feel like a tourist in Italy. The friendly vendor even took time to re-arrange his products for a good shot. Apparently my camera is big enough to give the impression of being a pro, which I am not – only the equipment is.

The love for food brought one couple to give up their previous jobs and source sausages, pâtés etc. from good quality producers like a South American butcher in Germany and his Chorizo or from France. They now share this passion with their customers and are happy to explain all about their findings. What made me sad is the fact that they are not able to find successors when they retire in a few years. A quality stall will disappear. The working conditions are not attractive.

Another gem on this market was the baker Hermann Welp. He is a 3rd generation baker who started a line of Italian breads and sweets after having travelled to Sicily. He needed 8 years to have break through to gain significant popularity with his produce and accompanying awards. He is now catering for a wide range of retail and wholesale clients and employs 30 or so people. One of his specialities are the organic “Pasta di Mandorla” a Sicilian almond paste based pastry. Here he got creative and added tea flavours (e.g. Earl Grey) to them, which got him a call from an interested tea shop chain. Despite his success the baker likes to personally sell at the market, where he gets first hand feedback on his products. Chatting with him was the other reason why I spent a lot of time at this stall. He is doing great marketing, has tons of stories to tell from his endeavour to be successful. He seems to be good at marketing as well, being able to connect with local stars thus creating some good PR in the media.

Market marketing

Opposite of the Italian bakery stall was the egg man. There could not be a bigger contrast in marketing. The eggs were presented almost in a wholesale manner and nothing distinguished them from an offering at a supermarket. No story was told, not about the chicken, not about the eggs not about the vendor himself. This is missing an opportunity at a market where communication is key. I would appreciate to get a better idea on how the eggs were produced and chicken raised. An omelette or fried egg sandwich would give me a another reason to buy these eggs. Lack of marketing seems to be for me one of the reasons that markets are losing clientèle. I guess it is partly a generational issue and partly a lack of time beyond the already stressful core business.

All in all: A lively market with good products, worth a visit

A little link list:

  • A short video in German