WHEN SOME of us go on holiday, we often search out local markets to find local colour. That colour comes not just from the foods on sale but from the people shopping there, the non-food stores, the music and the banter between stall-holders and their customers.
In Dalston we have such a market, and though at times it is busy, it could be busier with the shoppers who take strong ethical stances when buying food. These shoppers often ignore Ridley Road E8 2NP, choosing instead organic, local, Fair Trade, homemade, farmers’ markets food — or pre-packed supermarket products.
All these choices are understandable, and I choose to use all of them as appropriate, and that includes the supermarket. But I try to use Ridley Road market because the stall-holders are a part of Hackney that I believe deserves the support of newcomers such as me.
There is an amazing variety of stalls and what they sell is cheap. A lot of the food is local: brassicas from Lincolnshire, asparagus from Cambridge, potatoes, strawberries from other counties and most bananas are Fair Trade. Supermarkets, on the other hand, sell asparagus from Peru, for example, only days before the best of the home-grown crops appear on the stalls. Cutting food miles is a huge environmental benefit.
On some stalls you will find homemade, too. A bottle of fiery chilli sauce on a yam stall costs £1. It is local, homemade and at a good price — and from a stall-holder whose father, in the 1960s, was the first white Ridley Road trader to import African and West Indies vegetables.
The egg stall sells organic hen eggs and duck eggs at prices lower than some supermarkets’. Best Tuesday to Friday before 4pm.
The stall-holders work long hours, getting up early to drive to Covent Garden while most of us are still dreaming. Stalls have been in the same family for several generations. They know their food, too. See an unusual vegetable and the seller will tell you how to cook it.
* Every week I shall take £5 to spend in Ridley Road on seasonal food, then tell you what I chose and on Friday publish a seasonal recipe and a few other suggestions. Some of the recipes will be frugal. They will all be tasty. Some meals will need additional ingredients. All will be vegetarian.