Brimming over with artisan producers and suppliers, Hackney’s Broadway market is a mecca for discerning foodies. Armed with a mighty appetite I discover the passionate people behind the stalls and the best places to eat and drink.
I join a steady stream of people all heading towards the magical market I’ve heard so much about. I feel excitement at the thought of what lies ahead and my stomach gurgles in anticipation. Suddenly I’m struck by a hive of buzzing activity, the heady waft of tantalizing aromas and the babble of friendly banter: it’s Saturday; it’s Hackney’s Broadway Market.
This historic market is a riot of colour, cultures and flavours, with fruit and veg stalls nestling next to quirky arts and crafts, vintage fashion, and a shedload of artisan food and drinks producers. Being new to the area, I was keen to sample the gourmet delights that I knew awaited me at this top food destination.
I follow the appetite inducing smell of spices that is filling my nose and discover a visual feast, too: a row of colourful Indian vegetarian dishes, from curries and dhal to samosas and bhajis. I get chatting to Gujarati Rasoi owner Urvesh who tells me the food is based on the traditional Indian cooking he grew up with.
The recipes have been passed down from his great grandmother who lived in Gujarati in the 1940s. “We always knew that what he had at home was something special,” he says with a smile. “I wanted to share that food and bring it to a new audience”. And so the stall was born.
The business now runs a site at Borough Market and a thriving restaurant in Dalston; not bad for someone who started out with one pot on the stall 10 years ago. The love that goes into this nostalgic food is evident, and it’s mouth-wateringly delicious. Try the handmade samosas filled with peas, potato and carrots – fried until golden and crispy, they are finger licking good. The best quote of the day goes to a customer who returned to the stall after his meal and exclaimed: “It’s bloody marvellous!” I couldn’t agree more.
Beef it up
No visit to Broadway Market would be complete without visiting Ivan Lester’s legendary Jewish Deli. Ivan says: “A lot of people buy salt beef from Henson’s, which is mass produced, but I’m one of only a handful of suppliers who make it the traditional way.”
Irish brisket is injected with a brine solution for up to three days then braised slowly with aromatics until meltingly tender. According to Ivan, brisket makes the best salt beef as, “It’s the softest, sweetest part of the animal”. Ivan’s family recipe is closely guarded and he wouldn’t even tell me the type of salt used. Fair enough: protecting the recipe preserves its specialness and that’s the way it should stay.
Beef that tastes this good doesn’t need much adorning and it’s presented simply in a bagel with gherkins and mustard sauce. It’s salty, juicy and succulent. Having eaten at the famous Katz Deli in New York, famous for it’s giant pastrami sandwiches, Ivan’s wins hand’s down.
Finding a cure
Three Ibérico ham legs stand impressively on the Spanish artisan food stall, Santos & Santos. Accompanied by a selection of other cured meats such as chorizo and salami: it’s a meat lover’s paradise.
Manuel De Los Santos, the owner’s namesake, proudly tells me how he travelled all over Spain, particularly from his local area of Andalucia, to source the finest ingredients from small artisan, organic producers.
The curing process of the hams is a fascinating process. After two weeks of salting they are hung in huge rooms for about a year, where they control the temperature by opening and closing the windows. Manuel tells me: “The best hams are cured in the mountains of mid and southern Spain, because you need cold dry winters to start the process, and a hot summer so the fat melts into the meat, giving them the richness of flavour”. They are then matured for a minimum of 2.5 years and up to four, depending on the quality.
The free-range black pigs are fed a diet of grass, cereal or acorns, but the best ham comes from pigs that are fed only acorns. I taste my way along the legs leading up to the best quality ham. Despite Manuel telling me it was too cold to appreciate the flavour fully, it was still very good indeed – almost sweet, with an incredible depth of flavour.
The Macbeth or Lady Macbeth sandwich (meat or veggie version) is haggis served in granary bread, along with caramelised onions, rocket, mustard and Scottish cheddar – all toasted to golden perfection. It’s perfect hearty fare for a cold, winter’s day and it’s proving very popular.
Paddy and his partner, Carol, are bringing their own unique brand of haggis to London. Not wanting to use haggis that’s currently available on the market, they commissioned their own version, which was produced by an award-winning butcher in Dundee. They recently launched their unique haggis near Burn’s night to positive reviews. “People are really interested in the product – people with Scottish roots, tourists who want to try it or people who just love haggis.”
The carefully selected blend of spices is all-important to the individual taste, with cloves being a key flavour. Paddy says: “You can definitely smell the cloves when we cook it on the grill, but the rest is secret”! It certainly smells and tastes delicious.
In search of a sweet fix I arrive at Violets where a kaleidoscope of tempting goodies await. Cream filled whoopie pies, colourful cupcakes, gooey centred lemon slices and sugar-coated cinnamon buns, were just some of the delights on offer.
Claire Patak, a pastry chef who worked at Chez Panisse, arrived from California and set up the stall nine years ago. As is usually the case, we Brits fall in love with all things American and Claire’s cakes were a huge hit. They proved so popular that she set up a café five years, which sells all her delicious cakes as well as a lunch menu.
Claire uses top quality, fresh and homemade ingredients to create the big flavours in her bakes. Think coffee eclairs using freshly brewed coffee and butter icing made with fruit purees. Choosing one to eat was difficult but Anais, who was running the stall that day, easily persuaded me with the butterscotch blondies. It was divine; I think it may knock the resident chocolate brownie off it’s perch for good.
Feeling chilled and to round off my feast I wanted a coffee. I have always been seduced by the aroma of freshly roasted coffee, and today was no exception. I gravitated towards Merito, which had a reassuring steady queue of customers ordering from a hand-written blackboard menu. Swaying from my usual flat white I ordered a latte, which I can best describe as smooth, full-bodied and with caramel notes.
While sipping my latte I learned from the owner Jason about why his coffee was so good. The current expresso blend was made from 50% Peruvian Tunki coffee – which is some of the finest organic coffee available – with equal parts Cuban, Bolivian, Nicuragian and Malabar beans. Green Tunki coffee is sustainably shade-grown at high altitude, fed and washed by clear spring waters and has a clean, crisp taste. Jason buys these quality beans from the only authorized supplier in the UK. If you love your coffee then I would definitely recommend stopping by for your fix.
The market certainly lived up to its reputation and I left feeling resplendently satisfied on many levels. I’ve uncovered the passion and dedication behind some of the produce on offer but with more stalls, shops and cafes to discover I was already planning my next visit.
Coming soon: part two of my culinary Broadway Market review.