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Food for Thought

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Food has taken London’s markets by storm. On a recent trip to some of London’s most popular lunchtime spots, Katie Ingham wonders if it really is all glorious?

Think August would be a good time for London’s markets but actually it’s a bit of an iffy one. Being the summer you may expect people to be out in droves, but particularly for local markets that tourists are less likely to visit, business can be slow. Sensible locals vacate the city for warmer climates, you can see the pavements ahead of you and the roads are an eerie kind of quiet. Markets are naturally vibrant places, so it always feels unsettling to hit a lull.

My Thursday hunt for some market action began at Chapel Market in Angel Islington and it was my first interaction here with a trader that got me thinking. When I asked if I could take a photo of his stalled and I explained that it was for I love markets, he replied.

“So what’s going on with markets then?” What do you mean I said, “Well there all turning to food.”
My immediate response was how food stalls bring in good lunch time trade, but on reflection is the popularity of food at London’s markets changing the way we spend our time at them?

“If food stalls are replacing other traders, where are the non-food traders going and what does the future hold for these people at London’s Street Markets?”

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Chapel Market in Angel Islington

Chapel Market is still about as traditional a street market as you can expect to find in London.  It has an honest mix of food, fresh fruit and veg, clothing, flowers, home essentials and more so now, hot food stalls. It’s the type of everyday market that locals should cherish, offering an affordable alternative to supermarkets as well as the high street. I know that markets of this kind aren’t to everyone’s taste, but they do serve a purpose. If you know what you can find there and at competitive prices, then you know you can visit when the need arises.

A few of my favourite regulars are pictured below.

Chapel Market Stall

Local Historic Photos including Arsenal’s Icons

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Peruvian Children’s Clothing, Toys & Womens’ Jewellery

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Deli and sandwiches on the go

My next stop through Islington brings me down Rosebery Avenue to Exmouth Market. Exmouth Market is a quaint row of independent shops, well regarded restaurants, coffee shops and drinking holes. It’s off the beaten track nestled between Angel and Clerkenwell, it’s not on a tube stop, so it serves the immediate local area and is a popular spot for workers to take a lunch. The market itself is 100% food and it solely operates for the lunchtime and is already winding down come 2pm. Food stalls can do great business here. It’s a bite size market with about 10-12 stalls on a good day.  One thing that is lacking is somewhere to actually sit and eat, which is why a lot of people head back to their office to eat it. The Ghanaian food stall is a personal favourite. It serves authentic curries with the staple jollof rice. A great way to bring a bit of fire into a dull lunchtime.

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More fast bites at Exmouth Market on Rosebery Avenue

Walking on 5 minutes further up Rosebery Avenue you’ll hit Clerkenwell Road. It’s not far from the busy junction of Theobalds Road and Grays Inn Road and home to Camden Council run Leather Lane Market. Leather Lane is an interesting part of London which sits just in front of London’s Diamond Quarter – Hatton Gardens. It used to be a pretty lifeless part of town but now it has a new lease of life with many trendy design and media companies housed there. The high street itself has massively improved over the years. It has many gems. Daddy Donkey who used to run a hugely popular burrito stall on the market has recently opened up there. It has Monmouth Coffee, Kate Kanza a long-time favourite independent shoe shop of mine, and Fully City Bikes bringing their own two-wheel community vibes to the area. It would also be sacrilege not to mention the Falafel King at Sara’s Food Store, here you can sample arguably the best falafels in London.

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Food Stalls get ready for a day’s trading at Leather Lane Market

It’s not just the high street at Leather Lane that has changed, the market seems to have too. It used to be very in keeping with Chapel Market, however on this visit food traders seemed to be once again winning, which left me wondering where the other non-food traders have gone? With such a huge local work force it seems like a good move to offer more stalls selling lunchtime bites. It seems apparent that although food stalls bring in a strong lunchtime footfall, they don’t necessarily attract the type of person who is likely to spend money on other parts of the market. The question has to be asked is

“Who is actually shopping at London’s street markets?”

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Fully City Bikes on Leather Lane

Food is undoubtedly fashionable at moment. The popularity of street Food, topped with our hankering to “eat street,” has encouraged new faces to London’s markets. It’s  reignited interest which is a great thing, but it does make you wonder where all the other guys gone? If market organisers are simply supplying the demand then why is it that people are less likely to visit their market to shop as opposed to eat? The recession has undoubtedly played a part in tightening our everyday spending of luxury, non-essential goods.

“Eating is a strong contender to shopping as it’s a necessity, but it’s one that can give great pleasure!”

When considering the purchase of fashion, clothing and accessories at markets, bargain high street basements like Primark have to be mentioned.   Their success has sent shock waves across the industry and even market traders find it hard to compete with their prices. The increase in stalls selling cheap imported goods and replicas has also downgraded quality and variety. Many shoppers are happy to compromise quality over price and ethical reputation isn’t a player.

My last stop on my Thursday market trail is a foodie show stopper. White Cross Street. It’s a fine example of how a lively, vibrant lunchtime food market, can completely revive a lost and lonely high street. Situated just off Old Street and close to the Barbican, this is a fantastic place to take lunch. The photos speak for themselves. It’s hugely popular, buzzing and fantastically fragrant. Run by Islington Council this is their most successful market. Maybe it’s the success of this market which has affected the foodie future of neighbouring Chapel Street and Leather Lane Market.

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Whitecross Street Market is a lunchtime haven

Navigating your way through the crowds and vast aromas accelerates your appetite. The only difficulty here is deciding what to eat. By the Waitrose end of the market there were a few rather apologetic non-food stalls that in all honesty got swallowed up by the simmering food stalls and hungry punters. Everyone there has only food on the mind and who could blame them.

“Enjoying food is a universal pleasure, which brings people together.”

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Choosing what to eat is the tricky thing at Whitecross Street Market

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Punters can’t get enough of Hoxton Beach falafels at Whitecross Street Market

Whitecross Street is proof that food at markets can be a glorious thing. Succulent street food and fast bites are a popular pull. Enjoying food is a universal pleasure, which brings people together. It’s clear that the abundance of food available at London’s Markets has enhanced the overall market experience. I just hope that eating at markets doesn’t become more popular than shopping. Or is it too late?

Blog by Katie Ingham, I Love Markets Director. Tweet us your thoughts @ilovemarkets

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