Clare's Castle Market Adventure
Castle Market, whether you love it or loathe it, is a real Sheffield institute, but I bet half of you haven't even ventured into the food section. And given it's a world away from the standard supermarket I can't really blame you.
Not so long ago, like many, I thought it was a smelly dive full of manky produce and I preferred to stick to the supermarkets. All that changed about 18 months ago when, in a desire to save some pennies, I hit the markets in search of some bargains. I have never looked back.
Over time, I've learnt where to go for the best steak, the best fish and the tastiest sausages and because I remember how I felt on my first trip, I want to share my knowledge with you all in the hope that some of you will give it a chance and learn to love it as much as I do.
And it’s not just the variety of the produce, or the number of bargains that keep me going there, it’s the traders. A quick chat with the girls at Anthony Andrews fishmongers and a bit of banter with the lads at Buntings Butchers puts a smile on my face and leaves me feeling grateful that my days of trolley rage at Tesco are well behind me. As well as the friendly service, these guys know what they’re talking about. They know the produce they’re selling inside out and will share cooking tips and recipes with you; making sure you get the most out of their produce.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing a series of posts covering everything you could possibly want to know about the market, its stalls, and the produce available. I want this to be a two way thing, so if you have any tips of your own then please add them using the comments section at the bottom of each post. If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @FeastAndGlory and I will do my very best to answer them.
How to get there
Head for Primark (the 52, 53, 75, 76, 97, 98, 120 amongst others head that way) and walk down the left hand side. If you’re getting the tram in, then you need to get off at Castle Square, or if you’re deciding to drive in then go to the Q-Park car park on Broad Street, they’ve teamed up with Castle Market to give a discount to all shoppers. When you buy something, ask for a receipt and take it to Customer Services where they’ll give you a voucher enabling you to pay 70p for an hour of parking. Once you’re at Primark, go through the small outdoor market to the bottom (where you’ll find Heron Foods) and you then need to cross the road to the side where B&M and Wilko are (just watch out for those busses). Next to Wilko is a small market square, walk across this (not down it) heading for the OMG clothes shop (yes, really, it’s a shop called OMG) and you’re at the main entrance to the market.
To find the food section just walk through the swinging doors, past the ‘Their Price’ music store, down the right hand side of the bag shop, down the ramp and you’re there.
Finding your way around
You’ll find that the butchers are mostly on the outer rows but there isn’t any order to the rest of the stalls so you’ll probably feel a bit lost on your first visit. The market isn’t all that big though and you will soon become familiar with all the traders down there. I’m hoping to help out there too as in my future posts I’ll not just tell you the names of the stalls and what they sell, but I’ll let you know where they are on the floor plan available here.
When to go
The food market is open from 8am to 5pm Monday to Saturday except on Thursdays when it’s open from 8.30am to 3pm. The absolute best time to visit is first thing in the morning and if you get there for 8am you’ll have the pick of the very best produce. Just don’t be put off by the large carcasses that you’ll see, as the butchers are still setting up at this time. The market then gets busy at about lunchtime, and by this point the best of the bargains will have probably run out. Having said that, it’s not impossibly busy and there is still plenty of produce to choose from; I often go shopping on my lunch hour.
There isn’t a bad day to shop at the market, but in an ideal world I’d try and avoid Monday, or a Tuesday following a Bank Holiday, mainly because you won’t get as much fresh fish (a lot of it will have been frozen over the weekend) and sometimes the butchers can be a little low on stock (especially after one of those 4 day Bank Holiday weekends).
Cash or Card
Leave your cards at home as you’ll need to pay in cash. Try and take some change as you’ll be shopping in a variety of places and nobody will appreciate you trying to pay for a bag of apples with a twenty pound note! If you need a cashpoint there’s one across the road from Wilko as well as a couple in the shop itself. Yorkshire Bank is close by too, next to the Ponds Forge tram stop. All let you withdraw cash for free.
Although some stalls have signs up saying that they charge 5p for a carrier bag, I don’t think I’ve been charged for one yet. Regardless, it’s still a good idea to take a strong canvas bag with you, especially if you’re getting a few things. Of course, us hardened Castle Market shoppers have our trustworthy shopping trolleys, but they’re not all that convenient when you’re just nipping to the market on your lunch break.
Food Quality and Variety
The quality of the produce varies stall to stall and I will be giving tips of where to go for the best of the best, but in the meantime, all I can say is use your common sense. If you spot something going very cheaply then there will be a good reason for it. So if you do pick up those bundles of asparagus priced at 3 for £1, chances are that they are on their way out, and you’ll need to cook with them that day. There’s nothing wrong with this, but make sure you’ve got plans for those bargains or they’ll go to waste. If you want to know how best to store something, or when you need to use it by just ask. Remember the basics; if you buy some frozen fish and it defrosts on the way home you’ll need to use it that day and don’t re-freeze it.
You won’t find much organic produce down there, but a lot of it is English and you’ll be able to pick up English asparagus, watercress and Yorkshire rhubarb whenever it’s in season. As well as all the usual stuff you’d expect to find in the supermarket (including all your tinned produce and toiletries), you’ll be able to get some more interesting ingredients such as pork cheeks, drumsticks (the vegetable) and goat. And, although I haven’t compared a supermarket shop to a market shop in terms of prices, I can tell you now that the market is, on the whole, cheaper.
I think I’ve covered all the basic for now, but please do contact me if you think I’ve missed anything. Look out for my next post where I’ll introduce you to the butchers and where you can pick up those tasty steaks…
The steaks are high! Click here to read part two, where Clare takes us through the best in Castle Markets' butchers.
Photography by Marek Payne. Follow Marek on Twitter @MarekPayne