Food visits local markets around the capital: Roath, Riverside and Cardiff Central Market.
There’s a certain charm about the farmers’ markets, a charm that beats any dark circles and any hangover, the unavoidable trajectory of a full night out. Been there, done that. Set the phone alarm at half past ten and turn on the other side for thirty minutes more. This is how a good weekend day starts: with a postponed visit to the market, but with the certainty that none of these small efforts will go unrewarded.
The two best-known places of this kind in Cardiff are Roath and Riverside. Situated in two different parts of the city, these are popular shopping venues for the gourmet devotee. And if this passion is complemented by a community spirit and a sense of environmentally friendly practices, then all the better: most of the products come from Wales and are organically grown.
Roath runs every Saturday from 9am until 1pm on Keppoch Road, Mackintosh Sports and Social Club, 5 minutes away from City Road, while Riverside Market is opened on Sundays from 10am until 2pm, just opposite the Millennium Stadium.
From fruit, veggies and free-range eggs to assorted olives and pies, the stalls display numerous marks of authenticity. A trace of mud on the carrots, a hand written label; there’s nothing to worry about, all of it has been produced in the wide Welsh garden.
Depending on the time of the year, the stalls can change both in location and in the range of products they offer. However, there is no doubt that the Riverside market is by far more consistently popular than Roath, as the central location constitutes an undeniable advantage. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that it has achieved the 8th position in the top BBC Best Food Markets.
What firstly caught our eye was a chilli peppers stand with its multi-coloured and multi-shaped array. Although generically called “Welsh Dragon Chilli”, it gathers some of the most worldwide appreciated chillies, including Aji Lemon, Pimienta da Neyde and Piri Piri. Organically grown in Cardiff in the grounds of a solar panel factory, they can instantly give a boost to any otherwise dull salsa.
Eggs and butter can be found in any supermarket, but nothing compares to the fresh, free-range goodness of market produce. As a proof we get the healthy looking figure of the farmer handling with care and attention his goods, while smiling back to us.
Although not tried yet, the meats seem as fresh and as inviting as the other products. Just a few of the assortments listed on the “Todays Special” board: Preseli Mutton (cut as you like), T-Bone Steaks, Home -Made Haggis Sausage, Home-Made White Pudding, Osso Bucho, Pork Leek and Garlic Sausage and 5 Types of Beef Bacon.
Think green and fresh. Try one of the organic fruit and vegetables stands, surrounded by an arrangement of Welsh flags.
Meandering along the Taff on a Sunday morning can significantly work up an appetite. La Creperie de Sophie is just in the right place, at the right time. Their filling and mouth-watering pancakes are to be found in High Street Arcade during the week as well. Despite not having any Welsh connections, they seem to integrate themselves successfully into the market theme with their gluten, wheat and dairy-free products. Tip: they also run a loyalty card scheme (each customer receives their 10th crepe for free).
Coming from the same “ethnical” area, Taste of Persia manages quite well to add some colour to the grey surroundings of the Riverside area. Intrigued but too shy to ask the name of the pastries displayed, we assume that they were variations of the Persian baklava.
Adding a plus of innovation to the usual vegetarian and vegan choices, the Parsnipship is a stand not to overlook. Peas and brie, leeks and cheddar – two of the savoury choices we sampled that tickled our taste buds. They have special discount offers for the latecomers.
Another widely appreciated stall is The Spice of Life. Also having a small shop in town, next to Albany Road, the family-run business sells whole foods, herbs and spices “with a smile”.
While walking towards the centre of the market, we share a friendly smile with a lovely grey-haired lady as we ask her permission to photograph her stand. Sebon Soap pleads for palm oil-free soap, since they acknowledge the effect of its wide usage on the rainforests.
Jams, pickles and sauces, all from the nearby Newport – instead of providing you a clue of what to choose, the samples might even deepen the dilemma.
Words and Pictures: Laura Marinică
For the more day-to-day requirements of any kitchen, there is Cardiff Central Market. What the market lacks in the gourmet-level, weekend exclusivity of the other markets, it makes up for in affordable quality from the 8am opening until 5.30pm close. Don’t be put off by stalls that often shut down before any respectable student would be home from lectures (or the pub); its central location means that you can pop in whenever you happen to be about town, including the weekends.
The market’s layout hasn’t changed much in its 800 year history, and neither have the products. Ashton’s Fishmongers, the stall that welcomes you into the market, has been there since the 1800s, and its persistence is perhaps a testament to its quality. My most recent purchase, smoked salmon, was wonderfully oily enough for it to slip in my fingers instead of succumbing limply; intense flavour that comes from those infamous ‘good fats’ instead of the salt with which supermarket brands tend to substitute. The price for the fish, as well as most other meats within the market, is not perhaps for the tightest budget, though certainly not expensive – ‘reasonable’ would be the word most apt. It’s worth remembering, anyway, that ‘you get what you pay for’ never rings as true as it does with meat and fish products.
The cheap (and worthwhile) deals really start to show when you move onto the fruit and vegetable produce. It’s worth shopping around, as the number of stalls means inevitable competition, though I have yet to push my luck with actively pitting them against each other. Best of all, though, is the fact that it actually is a good deal. For example, the fat, numerous raspberries bought for a mere £1 really were too good to make it to my fridge.
The cheese, bread and cakes that make up most of the other stalls are comparable to supermarkets in price, but boast similar quality of that which is considered ‘higher shelf’; the produce (and this goes for everything in the market) is locally sourced in proper farmer’s market style, so you can expect higher quality for lower prices.
My personal favourite part of the market, which I think deserves a special mention, is the snack stall near the centre, specialising in all manner of tidbits from liquorice to baklava to chocolate cocoa beans, and not forgetting the more savoury treats of sweet garlic and herbed olives. Here, you can often be offered tasters to sample what you like; a good business tactic, as many a newfound favourite has been found this way. £1.50 per 100g may seem a bit steep in comparison to your average chocolate bar, but there is something far more wholesomely satisfying about dipping into a modest white paper bag of yoghurt-covered fruit or a sticky, honeyed nut selection. Furthermore, a little really does go a long way; these snacks are easily savoured, not polished off in a few moments of unsatisfied craving.
If nothing else, the Central Market is a wonderful monument to Cardiff’s heritage, having stood the test of time amongst the changes that propel Cardiff forward as a culture capital. While the city continues to edit, rearrange and re-evaluate itself, the Central Market can rest easy knowing that the only things it needs to modify are the daily specials.
Words: Isabel Larner