Cambridge Foodie: The revival of the local market

When was the last time you visited the market in the city centre of Cambridge? Too much of a hassle as there is no parking space and you prefer a one-stop shop at the supermarket or online? These are the common comments on our food walking tours. We take our guests here on various tours and time after time they are surprised about the excellent and tasty offering!

You might not think that the local market is a trendsetter, but it certainly is and has been. It is hard to imagine, but bananas were once upon a time an exotic product. In 1960 there was a stall dedicated to it on our market.

Just like in other cities all over the world, apart from the Far East, markets are suffering. One of the main reasons is that women used to do the weekly shopping and stay at home. These days, they have careers too, so less time to shop. Even some of the markets in Rome have shut down because of this. In the Far East it is a different ball game. They open very early in the morning, around 5am, and you’ll find a great activity. It’s a great experience to mix with the locals at these markets as there is so much going on.

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I love to shop on the market. Great produce and a good banter. Unfortunately, shopping these days has turned into an exercise and people don’t see it as an interesting experience. For me, it is not just about getting the shopping, but the social aspect too. When you shop regularly at independents and the market they get to know you. Sitting behind a computer shopping online is very lonely and you will not get exposed to new and fun things. Often you get samples when you shop at independents or on the market.

Seven years ago when I started the Cambridge Food Tour, there was only one artisan baker, the Norfolk Street Bakery, and the fabric of the market was quite different. The market started to suffer as people were drawn into the one-stop shop experience. So it had to reinvent itself. This is nothing new actually as, over the years, the market has done this all the time.

We are very lucky to have a thriving market, which trades seven days per week. Many refer to the Sunday market as a farmers market. Indeed, you can find two organic farmers here on that day, but there are also other offerings. It is a busy market day, just like the other days, except for the beginning of the week. It was difficult to fill the stalls on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, hence why the market management was looking for an alternative offering.

Street food became very popular so inviting these traders to join the market seemed to be a logic move. Over the last five years, we have seen a steady increase of street food. It is not easy to get a place though. Not only does the offering have to be unique, the food has to be of excellent quality, the trader has to be social media savvy and committed to the agreed dates.

At lunchtimes, the market is very busy. Some of the traders have done so well, that they even haveopened shop elsewhere in Cambridge, such as Africa Food. They recently opened a restaurant on Newmarket Road.

There are big plans to redesign the market. Whilst the City Council and other partners are working on this, they introduced the popular summer night markets and the free open air cinema last year.

The offering on the Cambridge Market varies per day and sometimes you will find guest traders pitching up too. So who are our favourite foodie traders on the market?

For your groceries:

The cheese stall, seasonal fruit and juices, the greengrocer, freshly baked bread, the fishmonger from Wednesday to Saturday, two flower stalls, coffee beans, the butcher, and a stall selling olives, nuts, herbs and tea.

Our favourite street food stalls:

Coffee and cakes, falafel, Spanish food, Paella, Arepa, Greek donoughts and pastry, Chinese and Japanese food, burgers, Belgium waffles, Greek wraps, Hungarian food and North African sausages.

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