Following the Queen
In 2011 the Queen has visited the English Market in Cork, Ireland, so it was my time to do it as well with some respectful distance.
This covered market is in the middle of the shopping area along St. Patrick street and a bit hidden as it is not clearly separated from the surrounding buildings which have the same hight. So read the signs and look at the map, it is worth it.
First the meat …
The first thing you will notice is the amount of butchers, they are almost a dozen. The beautiful cuts are presented very nicely in the display cases. I have not seen so many (large) steaks, filets, lamb chops in one place like in the English Market in a long time. All parts of the animals are being sold, even more robust ones like corned crubeens (pig feet) or beef rumen. Other traditional products are a variety of sausages (e.g. pork with apple) at selected stalls and especially black & white pudding, sausages with pork and oatmeal being served as part of the Irish breakfast. Salami style of sausages were not common.
Pork seems to be mainly of free range origin, coming from Germany I am not used to that. The butchers get most of their animals from the slaughterhouse and process them further. One is still raising his own animals (farm to table).
To my surprise those who are selling poultry are not called butchers – honestly I do not even know how they are called. The offering is mainly about chicken in all variations: whole, parts, pre-cooked, ready-made, etc. Whole chicken was cheap: below 5€. I have no idea how to produce a tasty animal at this price. Free range? No idea, should have asked.
… then breakfast …
After having seen all this meat I took some breakfast. There are several opportunities, I chose Café Anraith which looked very simple and cozy and is managed by a lady since some years. More famous is probably the Farmgate café located at the gallery, providing a good view on traders and customers from the top. I had a full Irish breakfast which was of good quality and very Irish. Fried egg, sausage, black & white pudding (contains meat as well), bacon which looks like ham to me, a few grilled tomatoes, toast, butter, raspberry jelly and a generous pot of tea. I felt good afterwards, the quality was better than what I experienced before in Dublin.
… and more food
The food temptations in the English Market are everywhere: grilled sausages, cheeses, cakes, sandwiches, soups, salads, sushi rolls and more. I made my way through them, could not resist and I was nicely rewarded at this cold day. Grilled sausage being served on a stick was new experience to me, I managed to eat it without losing any piece – I was happy with this achievement. At noon it got busy, the crowds were taking some lunch back into the office or ate it on the spot, giving the traders a good run. It was good to see that there is a desire for quality food in a country where supermarkets offer a wide choice for meals as well.
A new kid on the block is the Maki sushi rolls stall, managed by a couple with some experience from Berlin. The sushi rolls were almost as long as wraps and looked nice, I had pleasure with a vegetarian one where the asparagus sticked out of the roll like a funny haircut. As I had not seen much sushi around I am curious how this stall will do.
Even with all these food temptations the market hall does not look like a food court, it still has the character of classic produce market.
Continuing the discovery
The butchers dominate the picture of the market, but the offering goes far beyond this. Fruits & vegetables are including organic ones are available, the choice though was not very wide. The Alternative Bread Company had a large, diverse offering on breads, different to the everywhere dominant toast bread. Wine, chocolate, cakes, olives, canned and packaged specialty foods were available as well. Still a few stalls caught my eyes.
The fishmongers had beautiful displays with a sense for real design (see picture gallery on top). Many fishes seemed to come from not so far shores, but the Atlantic is big. They were complemented by farmed ones and those from other seas. Oysters and other mussels were not prominent but available.
The oriental food stall impressed me by having Nigerian beans, and everything else needed for Asian, Arab or African cuisine, including large bags of rice. Beans and cereals were presented in open large bags, thus reminding indeed of “oriental” food markets. The owner of the stall is of Moroccan origin and to make it easier for customers he called his shop “Mr. Bell’s oriental food” as his last name “Belmajoub” is a bit more difficult to remember.
The deli stall “On the pigs back” had what I am always looking for: local artisan cheeses. I got myself a nice sampler and experienced that the Irish know cheese as well. In addition there was a truly good selection of French charcuterie, and cheeses including home made patés. No surprise: this stall is owned by a French lady. Not only that the Huguenots settled in Cork, there seems to be an active French community and a French cultural center “Alliance Francaise“. A good starting point for a loyal customer bases and probably the reason why I heard several traders speaking French.
Mary Rose and what I learned from her
For the after lunch coffee I stopped at Coffee Central. What I knew only afterwards: that was the decision of the day. Not only that I got a good coffee, but the owner Mary Rose, who began at the market in 1969, took time for an extensive chat. We did compare house prices in Ireland & Germany, energy efficient houses, Angela Merkel and also the impact of the German retail chains Aldi & Lidl in Ireland – not so good for small businesses and produce markets.
She told me the story of the market, how things changed within her market life time – she switched her business from meat to coffee. I got to understand how a part of the covered market was rebuilt after a fire incident, a reconstruction she approves.
She saw businesses leaving the market. And she saw new ones coming up, established by “outsiders”, like the oriental food stall (Moroccan gentleman), the olive one (Englishman) and the French/Irish delicacy stall (French lady). She showed a high respect for these entrepreneurs who truly enriched the English market and attracted new crowds with great, some times year long endurance. The owner of the olive stall started in the market but apparently manages now the import of olives to Ireland as well, a produce apparently not known here for so long. Mary Rose noticed also the new sushi roll stall, she did not seem being a fan of sushi itself, but she looks at every new business from an entrepreneurial perspective, observing the constant struggle for success.
She praises the English market traders of whom she knows all their little and big stories for their entrepreneurial spirit. She sees how difficult the business is, and appreciates the young butcher who recently finished his apprenticeship, the first one after many years, to continue shaping the future of the market. And the traders come to her place as well: for a tea, a coffee and a chat, it seems to be like a village: everybody knows the other.
Mary Rose impressed me on how she welcomes changes and innovation even though she can look back to a long life, usually a stage were people often want to keep things as they are. I learned that the future and attractiveness of market cannot rely only on existing traders as “product innovation” is necessary and often comes from “outsiders”.
Leaving the market
I left the market after a few hours with the feeling of having gotten an excellent introduction in Irish food, traditional and modern one. The friendly traders helped me a lot. And they are easy to follow in social media.
All in all: The English Market is an Irish food icon and worth more than one visit
A little link list:
- The official website of the English Market – recommended before visiting it
- English Market on Twitter
- Recommended book: “Serving a city – the story of Cork’s English Market” – available in Cork bookshops
- The market hall on Wikipedia
- A nice post of Pink Julep
- An introduction to the cuisine of Cork