Last week I was invited along on a food bloggers tour of Ely Markets, I went along thinking I knew it all. I mean I’ve lived in Ely for nearly 3 years now and I’ve spent quite a few Saturday mornings wandering around the weekly craft and collectables market, I’ve also spent a few mornings wandering around the general market on a Thursday. I went along thinking it would be nice to catch up with other local food bloggers, and maybe try some of the food that’s on offer. I don’t really do reviews and the like so I was debating on whether I would even do a post about it. I mean everyone knows their own market and aren’t they all the same anyway? I know Ely, this ship of the fens, this sleepy market town, this tiny city that wakes up on market day, I know all about her markets. Well I was wrong! Now grab a coffee, this is a long one, I have a lot to tell you about Ely Markets, just over 2000 words actually!
Ely markets, specifically the farmer’s market held on a Thursday has been going since the 12th century, it’s one of the largest in the area and it is bursting with fruit and veg stalls, meat and fish stalls, flower stalls and everything you could ever need for your weekly shop really. It brings people in from all over the area, and I have never once been there and it wasn’t busy, like all good markets you need to get there early so you don’t miss out on the good stuff!
Saturday’s Craft & Collectables market is a different fish though, going for just over 16 years and with footfalls increasing year on year, over 2000 on the last count back in 2010, this market is getting better every year. With a range of unique arts and crafts stalls, vintage and collectables stalls, bric-a-brac, books, and retro artefacts such as a vintage tool stall, it really is easy to spend an hour or two pottering around from stall to stall. But it is the street food aisle that has my attention and this was the main focus of the tour.
Our fist stop on the Ely markets tour was Harpers Deli, founded by husband and wife team Teri and Andrew Harper due to a joint love of deli foods and local produce. Harpers Deli sells products exclusively from East Anglia, so you can’t get more local than this! They source all the products themselves and are always on the lookout for more great local produce, so if you find something local and great that they don’t happen to stock let them know and they will order it in for you. I tried their Crush Zingy Lemon Dressing, made with rapeseed oil from Norfolk, I really liked this, I could see this working really well with some nice white fish. I also tried some of Breckland Orchard’s famous Ginger Beer with Chilli, this is a ginger lovers delight with a kick, luckily I love ginger and chilli! Harper’s also stock pestos, jams & chutneys, sauces and chocolate.
Next we headed to I am Dumpling, a humble street kitchen selling amazing dumplings with a side of revolution. I really could have just stayed right there, ate all the dumplings and listened to Andrew talk, I wanted to know more about his time travelling the world and his desire for food to remain simple, good and real, he hit a nerve, I too am Dumpling! Andrew is inspiring and very passionate, his dumplings were outstanding as were his bau buns. Order your dumplings and stay a while to chat if he’s not too busy. I guess I’ll have to become a regular to find out more, oh well how bad?
And so on to Alchile, for a real authentic Mexican experience, and it is 100% Mexican. You cannot miss this colourful food truck, run by two brothers, Octavio & German who left Mexico 10 years ago and settled in Cambridge. These guys cut their teeth on Ely market, and have grown a loyal following not just in Ely, they can be found in Cambridge, Newmarket and London and it’s easy to see why. Generous portions of delicious authentic Mexican food, and they cater for everyone, kids, veggies, gluten free you name it they have it covered. Burritos, tacos, quesadillas and nachos were on offer for us to taste and you could not get near the hatch, there was a scrum of food bloggers diving in, so I tried some very good nachos and hung back, I’ll be taking my girl there next week, we both love Mexican food so it’s on our hit list, anyway I wanted to chat with one of the guys and more about their story. These guys are real hard working guys, but most of all they are very passionate about sharing a true Mexican experience, they are also passionate about fresh, good quality food and they love Ely market and the folk who visit it. I for one really hope they keep coming to Ely.
Another Ely market success story is The Ely Gin Company. What started out as a hobby for James Clark, making hedgerow wine and sloe gin at home has turned into a stall on Ely market, selling botanical flavoured gins and now also a stand alone store selling their Octogon (a reference to the tower in Ely Cathedral) flavoured vodka too. The stall was too busy for all us food bloggers so we headed to the store where we were greeted by Nancy and George, we got a brief history of the origins of Ely gin but more importantly we we offered alcohol, a welcome break from all the food! Now I’m not much of a gin drinker but I do like trying new things so I gave their sloe and cherry flavoured gin a go, and what a treat that was, perfect for winter this stuff really warms you up, it’s like a warm fire in a country pub on a winter’s evening. Anyway let’s just say a few cherished friends will be very lucky this Christmas. You won’t find Ely gin in the supermarkets as they work on a seasonal basis but you can order online from their website or of course visit them at the market.
Going around the market you get a real sense that there is a great little community between the stall holders and this comes into life with George’s Bakery. A young baker, George from Cambridgeshire, has only been on the market just over a year, he has collaborated with The Ely Gin Company and uses some of their flavoured gins and vodkas in his incredible cakes; namely his Octagon Vodka with Raspberry and Rose Cake, Ely Gin with Pink Grapefruit and Thyme Cake, Ely Gin with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Brownie which I was lucky enough to sample. George also bakes and sell quiches which are equally excellent. These cakes and bakes are outstanding, and it’s almost hard to believe that George only started a baking a year ago! Needless to say his cakes and quiches sell out fast, really fast, so get there early to make sure you don’t miss out.
And as if that cake stall wasn’t enough there was more, we visited Audrey’s Cakes , Audrey specialises in vegan cakes and as someone who is fond of her butter I can honestly say that I just could not taste the difference. I tried Audrey’s lemon drizzle, and I love lemon drizzle, it was perfect. Vegans, by the way, are well catered for at Ely markets, so much so that Ely markets have launched their very first Ely Markets Vegan Fair which will be held on the 29th of October. Audrey will be at the upcoming Vegan Fair as will Food by Lizzi. Food by Lizzi is a completely vegan stall selling her very popular Scotch Eggless and savoury rolls among other vegan delights. Lizzi’s stall is very popular and you really can’t miss this bright and colourful stall. Another lovely cake stall is Sophie’s Cakes with traditional afternoon tea cakes and desserts, Sophie also brings the afternoon tea experience to your home or business for special events.
So as you know I’m not a vegan and we do eat meat occasionally. I’m also very passionate about the quality of the meat I use so it was excellent to listen to Matt from Betty’s Farm and to hear that his pigs are free to roam, and again Matt is another very passionate producer who has his animals welfare at heart. Now, you know I’m Irish right? And Ireland has a very famous, very good black pudding. Well I love my Irish black pudding, so, I reluctantly tried Matt’s black pudding and to my surprise it was actually very good! It may be a good substitute for when I can’t get my Irish hit 😉
If you are a meat lover then you really can’t come to Ely and not visit Edis Of Ely, the award winning butcher’s on the high street is so busy at the weekend they had to open a separate stall on the market to cope with demand. If you’ve ever visited Ely around Christmas week you may have noticed the queue outside this butchers, it’s not just out the door, it’s down the street, I have never seen this anywhere, but it’s a testament to their award winning sausages. I tried some of their award winning pork pies and scotch eggs which were as I expected extremely good.
Our penultimate stop on this extensive tour of Ely Markets was the Azahar Street Food truck, I’ll be honest I was pretty full at this stage but I managed a taste of their sublime tortilla and got a small handful of some very tasty almonds. Again you can’t miss this food truck, it’s gorgeous, I think they win the prize for best looking truck and I may be developing a thing for food trucks! They sell Bocatas, authentic Spanish street food which is also very popular with the regulars to Ely market. We also visited JJEB Farm’s stall where we tasted goat samosas, this was a first for me, I’ve never tried goat but I quite liked it. Definitely food for thought here.
And finally a well needed sit down and a coffee was in order. I like my coffee and I’m kind of fussy, I’m not overly keen on chain store coffee shops, you know the ones that start with star and end in bucks? Yeah lots of bucks!! Well Silver Oak Coffee is the antidote to all those high street coffee chains. You won’t get a more passionate or enthusiastic roaster and brewer of coffees than Bruce, this guy knows everything about coffee right down to how the hard water here in Ely affects your coffee. Bruce had everyones undivided attention and even persuaded the non coffee drinking of us to try a coffee! No mean feat. I had a seriously good cappuccino, it was lovely and smooth just how I like it! They also have an award winning hot chocolate which I’m heading back for soon!
My biggest takeaway from our tour of Ely Markets was how passionate and dedicated the stall holders are, it’s so easy to visit your local market and not really engage with the folk serving us, but these people love coming to Ely market, they love the people they meet here, and they are experts in their fields, they are so much more than market traders they are dedicated food artisans and I for one will be supporting them more.
Ely Markets run every Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays, they have a lot of exciting things planed for the upcoming festive season so check out their website to find out more. Parking is free in Ely and there are a lot of other things to do if you visit Ely, you should maybe stop by the Cathedral, I’ve heard it’s sort of famous and definitely take a stroll down by the waterfront 😉
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