I can think of few more pleasant ways to spend a Saturday than pottering round a food market. Chatting ingredients with local producers, picking up a few (read fridge full of) nibbles for chowing down on later and shoving your face full of hot, freshly cooked street food… What’s not to love?
Now, we do a particularly good turn in markets and festivals here in the North West. Our bounteous region proffers two of the best traditional British cheeses in Lancashire and Cheshire, not to mention the luscious pastoral land across both counties, allowing for the breeding and feeding of some fabulous beasts – Tatton Park venison and Goosnargh chicken to name just two. Throw into the mix a thriving brewing industry and the burgeoning street food scene in Manchester, and you (read me) find yourself with the adult equivalent of a Saturday afternoon kid’s party on your hands.
The resurgence in farmers markets back in the early noughties brought local markets back to fore, out of the shit storm that was the BSE crisis when it was all hands on deck to support our local and regional producers. Since then, supported by the back bone of local food halls like those found in Bolton and Bury – each to this day doing a roaring trade from the respective fish market and black pudding stalls – markets have always been a mainstay of our regional food experience, but of late, more entrepreneurial, community managed and socially marketed co-operatives have come to the fore.
Both Levenshulme and Heaton Moor have been on the scene for a while now, but ever the late adopter (and lazy arsed town dweller), I took my merry old time to mosey on down and lay down some dough. Both organised by locals, the atmosphere down at a last month’s Levy (as it’s more affectionately known) is manifest with community spirit – laid back, friendly and with an impressively supportive environment. Traders recommending one another, sharing insider knowledge on the best Manchester markets to attend and happily chatting for half an hour about their recipes. Happy days.
Organic bread from local treasure Trove, a wild garlic wrapped Cornish Yarg from Winter Tarn and a roasted red pepper chutney from Fat Jax to try had me set up for the evening, plus some keenly snaffled Ploughman’s sausages (stuffed with vintage cheddar cheese) from Bobby’s Bangers and a selection of chipotle chillies from new favourite Some Like it Hot promised to see me through the coming weeks. The more pressing need for sustenance proved to be a harder decision, however, with Fire & Salt BBQ and Barn House Bistro (both of Guerrilla Eats fame) on hand, but rather than opt for old favourites, I chose to try out the new kids on the block instead.
Having predicted (read hinted) that the UK’s new food obsession would (should) be all things South American, Manchester food bloggers Good Gobble Blog have set up their own Colombian street food concern, selling the mighty arepa – a maize flat bread filled with many mighty combinations. I personally enjoyed a spago chicken number, complete with a lime salsa and freshly made guacamole. Soft, pillowy and chock full of flavour, juices dripping down my hand, these deceptively small bites are ridiculously filling, meaning I couldn’t get me some barbecue after all.
Sweaty, happy and out of food by 1pm, they were a smashing success and a colourful addition to this already well balanced market. On that note, happy stall holders tells you all you need to know about a market, too. Having worked in food festivals and food markets back in the day, a good mix of non-competing products, interesting traders and a steady stream of customers is all it takes to put a smile on a stall holder’s face, which in turn makes for a happier environment.
Good promotion and good weather helps too, but rocking up midday during a traditionally dank Manc summer day to such welcoming, vibrant scenes, of jute bags bursting and juices dripping down chins tells you all you need to know about this little market. So go. Enjoy!