“ Ridley Road, London E8 „
I have lived in Hackney for over six years and was lucky enough to buy a flat with my partner about eighteen months ago that is within walking distance of Ridley Road in Dalston E8. I felt sure we had found a convenient location within the borough, nestled as we are between the gentrified attractions of Stoke Newington, Newington Green and London Fields, however I had not realised the joys that living in close proximity to the market would bring. Yes, I use the word joy with reference to Ridley Road market as I can honestly say a saunter through the highly eclectic mix of stalls never fails to lift my spirits, raise a chuckle or more often than not surprise the hell out of me (giant land snails inching there way out of baskets in the summer).
Ill talk a little bit about what I see as the essentials on Hackneys most diverse market. Im a patron of Ridley Roads one and only egg stall, run by a friendly middle aged couple who stock big free range eggs from Roydon near Harlow (low food miles), some organic varieties and great trays of farm eggs which you can hand pick yourself. Although the egg stall is not present every day, it is there on Thursdays which is by far the best day on the market. There are a several note worthy green-grocers stalls on Ridley Road, the best examples being located between the high street and about halfway down towards T.F.C. (the Turkish Food Centre). Be choosey about your fresh herbs (dill, parsley or coriander), look out for the unwashed new potatoes, cooking apples and even spot currently fashionable produce such as Bok Choi. Theres something satisfying about taking your shopping home in little brown paper bags rather than a sea of plastic. Thursday seems to be the best for fresh fruit and vegetables on Ridley Road.
Fish is a prominent feature on the market but many of the varieties on sale such as Red Snapper and Cod are sourced from hugely over-fished stocks so should be avoided. You may like to do some research of your own (http://www.fishonline.org/) but so long as the fish have bright eyes and the stall is well packed with fresh ice then you shouldnt have any problems other than ethical ones. Personally I have bought sprats (pan-fried with lemon and buttered brown bread) and even had a go at filleting Tilapia to.
Aside from the excellent grocery shopping on Ridley Road I have bought amongst other things a decent watch strap, socks, a large non-stick pan, wonderfully pungent natural soap and batteries. Depending on your background you may wish to purchase some of the more obscure items available but frankly I have trouble identifying some items so I recommend a visit at the earliest opportunity.
Although not strictly part of the market, the Turkish superstore is definitely worth incorporating into a Ridley Road excursion. Known as T.F.C, it can be found at the east end of the market and is one of several branches in north London. I regularly take advantage of the colourful range of chilli peppers in the lengthy fruit and vegetable isle, the olives and feta cheese on the deli counter, tasty natural yogurt from Tim's Dairy in Buckinghamshire and Lava brand humous made locally in N16. You will also find an extensive range of olive oils, herbal teas, pickles in jars (roasted red peppers are a favourite), tinned or dried pulses and not forgetting the excellent onsite bakery.
Before I conclude Ill put a word in for one of the many butchers in the area, namely Murrays, an open fronted shop by the side entrance to the shopping centre. The staff at Murrays are great characters and along with their professional manner Ive been enticed back by their un-smoked back bacon and generous selection of sausages. Ridley Road is not just about the market but the whole Dalston shopping experience which is why I have mentioned other retailers here. In order to enjoy Ridley Road market at its best, try to visit in the morning, on a bright day and if you can make it a Thursday, even better.
Buses run from Waterloo, Liverpool Street, London Bridge and Victoria to Kingsland High Street for Ridley Road. The Silverlink North Woolwich to Richmond railway also calls at Dalston Kingsland station opposite the end of Ridley Road.
The drawback to many of London’s street markets is that they are only held on certain days. One notable exception to this is Ridley Road in Dalston, which is open every day of the week, so if you are in London for a short time and want to visit one of its many markets then consider coming here. What you will find is not some trendy art and crafts market, but a road mingling with people from every corner of the globe selling or buying provisions of every sort in a vast cultural melting pot. The first thing that hits you is the noise. Reggae competes with Arabic music, then as you move on segues into hymns from one of the stands selling bibles and other religious materials. Then there are the smells. Smoke from the jerk chicken on the griddle at one of the Caribbean food stalls stings your eyes and assaults your nose then blends into curry as you move away. The range of fruit and vegetables is amazing. Huge yams, sweet potatoes, plantains and custard apples jostle with asparagus and strawberries, along with some Asian fruits such as the durian. When I visited, seeing that strange fruit took me back to backpacking in Asia, as it is much loved in that part of the World. You only have to taste one once and it is almost certain you will never want to again. Once the fruit is cut, the smell is indescribable and I can assure you that if you go near one at Ridley Road you will know about it. When I visited this market, one vendor tried to get me to try some, but I have been there and tasted this disgusting fruit before. People from Asia love it, but they are well aware that to almost everyone else it tastes revolting. They find the expression on Europeans’ faces when they try durian very amusing, so don’t give any of the sellers the chance of a joke at your expense. If you are a student looking for some cheap cutlery or a few pots and pans, you will think you have gone to heaven. Every other shop on the street is t
he type that offers all their goods for a pound, and how they all keep going, I really don’t know. All sorts of cheap household and gardening products are available at rock bottom prices. If you are having a party then check out one of the several shops on the street selling all kinds of fun stuff at prices that won’t break the bank. This lively market has been held here for over a century and there are many family run butchers and fishmongers that have been situated here for many years. Take your pick from every cut and kind of meat imaginable, and I am not just talking about sheep, cows, chicken or pigs. Goat or horsemeat, can also be found if you know who to see. If you like eating fish, then fresh cod and haddock might appeal, or one of the more exotic species such as red snapper or parrotfish. Or perhaps you’d like to carry a live conger eel home. But, whatever you do, remember to buy meat and fish from shops that keep their produce under proper refrigeration, as some of the shops on this street would keep an Environmental Health Officer busy for days. I saw uncovered plastic buckets full of unidentifiable meats and fish in spicy marinades, plonked in the street outside shops. As a chef who works with food all the time, there’s not a lot I can say. I guess things like this just add to the unique character of this market which has caught the attention of more than one film producer. Any fan of the BBC series Maisie Raine starring Pauline Quirk, might have seen Ridley Road Market in some of the programmes as some of the scenes were shot here. Dalston is not one of your trendy, yuppie areas of London and I hope it never will be. Many of the people here are immigrants from all over the World who have had it hard and have had experience of racial discrimination from the ignorant. But for the open minded visitor who has not come to gawk or pass judgement it has a character all of its own a
nd the market is well worth a look around. Ridley Rd, Dalston E8 Open Mon-Wed, 9am-3pm Thurs 9am-noon, Fri & Sat 9am-5pm, Sun10am-3pm Angel Tube then bus 30 or 38 (Cross the road) British Rail: Dalston or Kingsland