Having lived in a smaller, more historical city my entire life until last September when I came to university, the market place is no foreign land to me. The sparring calls of fruit and vegetable vondeurs competing to proffer their best crop of the day is background noise that I've grown accustomed to in my home town.
The Geordie grocers of Grainger Market on the other hand, are a force to be reckoned with. Approach the butcher aisle with caution is one crucial token of advice, as the men are not afraid to approach you with a large, bloody T-bone. An offer which this pescetarian did not handle too graciously.
Entering the indoor market for the first time is not dissimilar to entering a corn maize. Row upon row of greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers and bakeries are just some of the stalls to intrigue your senses. At the heart of the market, you can find my favourite greengrocer's. The ladies working on the stall have come to know me and my usual purchases well this last year, as fruit and veg are the foundations of my diet and cooking. Never mind 5-a-day, I must be hitting 15.
My other regular stops include the weigh house, where a wide selection of dried fruit, cereal, seeds,nuts and baking goods are so cheap, it's understandable why I often trudge home with a multitude of cellophane bags, containing the ingredients for delicious muesli and porridge that are far from bland and boring. A bag of mixed nuts which may cost you £3 in a supermarket, will be a fraction of the price at any good market like Grainger.
"The Shanghai Store", one aisle away from my regular grocer, is a haven for anyone who enjoys Chinese, Japanese and Thai food. The foreign labels, unfamiliar products and indistinguishable frozen goods are not things to be feared, but embraced. I recently bought 3 packs of authentic noodles made from rice, buckwheat and oats for £1.50. As a sufferer of food intolerances, wheat is off the menu for me and it wasn't until I found the shanghai store that I even realised there were alternatives to the usual wheat noodles. The wide selection of miso soups, each flavoured with different Asian ingredients knock the socks off of any standard cup a soup and at just 50p for 5, who can argue with that logic? I'm currently enjoying a mugful, with pieces of crunchy water chestnut, seaweed, and noodle pieces, flavoured with soy sauce. They also come with a small sachet of natural flavouring, making them this student's ultimate pot noodle!
This week's best buys from the lovely greengrocer stall include 2 large punnets of beautifully sweet, juicy strawberries for just £1.50 and a bunch of this season's first asparagus-both of which will be playing leading roles in tomorrow night's dinner when a dear friend comes to visit. On the menu: Asparagus, pea and mushroom risotto, accompanied by a very large glass of Pimms!
As soon as April arrives and the sun makes appearances lasting longer than half and hour, out come the emerald green shorts and the pitchers of Pimms, it really makes me feel that Summer is on it's way:
Bring on the sun, bring on the Pimms
- In a pitcher or large jug, mix 1 part Pimms to 3 parts chilled and sparkling lemon and lime flavoured water. (Traditionally made with lemonade, I find the sparkling water gives a better flavour and is lighter to drink.)
- Give the frozen ice cube tray a good smack on the counter, and add all the ice to the jug.
- Add an array of fruit wedges, including orange, apple, lemon and lime. Mix in a few sliced strawberries, crescents of fresh cucumber and a few leaves of mint.
Due to a lack of proper kitchen ware which every student will suffer from at some point or another, tomorrow night's risotto will be cooked in a paella dish. This is at least a step up from my wok, which regularly masquerades as a risotto pan.
Biting into a honeyed plum from the market, I've realised that I may have gotten carried away describing my love affair with Grainger. The most important point to make however, is that markets and independent sellers are not only MUCH cheaper, but often sell fresher and tastier products whilst allowing you to meet interesting people and avoid fuelling the supermarket giants responsible for these markets losing business.
After hearing from a major ghost of relationships past, I will need to decide on a meal for Sunday night as well.... What goes well with nervous conversation and childish giggling??????