‘The plain fact is that much commercial cooking is bad’ Jane Grigson wrote in English Food in 1974, when quinces grew in most gardens, and capons were a not unusual dish at the English table.
Eating out was not for the masses. Restaurants were expensive and there was no alternative to the stiff white linen bound places that most restaurants were. Fast forward to 2016, and food eaten at home is more likely to be pasta, restaurants are plentiful and excellent, with takeaways and street food options providing a hungry public with real choices.
We are fortunate to have plenty of good food thanks to post war planning, and we don’t need or want to catch our own rabbits. Instead, we want to celebrate our good fortune by eating out, and eating well, and sharing this with others as a social occasion.
Screen time habits mean that people crave social bonding, and the success of street food markets clearly shows that this is one of the most popular ways to socialize in the UK. In several UK cities office workers depend on the street food traders for a healthy reasonably priced lunch eaten casually. Evening street food markets provide a great way to eat and socialize while pleasing many pockets and with so much variety on offer, diverse palates are satisfied too.
So in 2016, this is how eating in the UK looks. We expect to be able to eat out in affordable ways. Eating out amongst 35 – 44 year olds continues to grow year on year and street food markets are providing what people want – a very exciting way to eat out. They are cheap, they cook interesting food fresh to order, as well as giving thousands of small food businesses an entry point into the industry.
Stockport market hall in the heart of Stockport, is a stunning building, a temple to the Victorian way of eating which was once full of good produce and seasonal catches.
How do we repurpose this architecturally significant heart of Stockport town into a vibrant and buzzing centre, a place to meet friends?
And how do we draw people back into the town centre to socialize and enjoy, to inhabit the town and provide a place where people can feed their souls and find a social occasion.
How do we repurpose our town centres to embrace 21st century living? How do we provide the services and retail spaces that families, workers and shoppers in town centres demand, create a town centre to meet friends in, exchange the news of the day? Something to replace the lackluster, desolate offering that greets most visitors to town centres. And do all of this without forsaking the heart and soul of a town, without replacing heritage buildings with functional, technologically advanced, but soulless buildings?
We are not alone in this quest, great things come out of needy situations, and when Lisbon council realised that their beautiful Mercado da Ribeira, on Lisbon’s historic dockside, was in the same spiral of decline as beloved Stockport market hall, they put out a call for fresh ideas and fresh input.
The fact that digital media travel and events company Time Out answered the call, shows what a destination place a market hall can become, given the right direction.
The new and fresh direction that Time Out gave the Mercado do Ribeira kept the soul of the building, the buzz of the marketplace, while embracing the needs and desires of the 21st century city dweller and tourist alike. It kept the marketplace as a place for small businesses to establish themselves and thrive, whilst along the way becoming a destination for national and international tourists.
The local residents treasure the produce stalls, where they can buy bread, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, fresh from the grower and producer as they always have, but the difference is that they now return in the evening, alongside the tourists, to make their selection from the many and varied food stalls around the market hall’s edge, and sit at the solid wooden bench style tables to socialize, eat and chat. The place is buzzing with people enjoying their food, in a relaxed way, and with an air of discovery and excitement. People come from miles around, and the Mercado is firmly on the list of all visitors to the city.
Both Lisbon and Stockport have a heritage of extraordinarily good food, simple food from the abundant land and sea. Both centres also have enthusiastic and talented young chefs keen to turn their hand and put their spin on the recipes they have inherited and make them appeal to the street food audience.
Repurposing the Stockport Town Hall along these lines gives the next generation a chance, bringing the heart and soul back into the town centre. Market towns all over Britain are looking at the Mercado da Ribeira model, and considering this as the best way forward for their town centre.
Stockport could be the first of many, the leader for others to follow.
There is a lot of bad food available in 2016, but Stockport is not the place for it. This is a way to bring together and raise up the food heritage of the area with an offering that will have wide appeal to many and be available to all to enjoy. Let’s embrace the change and celebrate the new, while still appreciating the setting of the old.