A visit to the English Market in Cork

When we were growing up, we enjoyed visiting the Grand Central Market and Farmers Market in Los Angeles. It was a bustling scene, with food vendors, produce markets, florists and sit-down restaurants. Later, we enjoyed visits to Harrod’s Food Hall in London, the Bon Marche in Paris and the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.

This week we visited the English Market in Cork, which brings together the cuisines and culture of Ireland. Many food enthusiasts consider it the best covered food market in the UK and Ireland. Situated in the heart of Cork City, the English Market is a roofed food market and has been trading since 1788. Developed and still owned by Cork City Council, the Market is one of the oldest municipal markets of its kind in the world. The trading stalls are held under 21-year leases from the City Council.

“From cheeses to pastas, from olives to cured meats, from sauces to oils, from sausages to sushi, and from exotic spices and herbs to an abundance of beans and rices – the Market has taken on the ambitious role of meeting the culinary tastes of a modern and diverse new market, and knowingly married these with local and traditional fare,” according to market organizers.

We visited the Market on a Saturday morning, absorbing the sights and sounds from the food vendors. We ate breakfast and bought some food to go — cheeses, salami, smoked salmon, a baquette, fresh pears and apples, and more. Here are some examples of what we experienced:

Farmgate Restaurant:
Showcasing local and traditional produce, the Farmgate Restaurant in the gallery of Princes Street Market opened in 1994. Shaping its menu from the finest of produce on sale from the stalls below, the Farmgate encapsulates the “very essence of the values that have sustained the English Market across four centuries,” according to market organizers.

We enjoyed fresh-squeezed orange juice, and fresh scrambled eggs with Irish back bacon and a grilled tomato. The stalls below sold the eggs, bacon and tomatoes. The dining room overlooks the food stalls and featured local artwork. The restaurant was a gathering place for locals, who were reading a newspaper or visiting with one another.

On the Pig’s Back: We visited this market to gather belongings for a picnic. Farmhouse cheeses, charcuterie, fresh breads, Irish artisan food, and French epicerie and specialities, make the stall in the English market the rendez-vous of Irish gourmets and foodies. Established in 1992, by French woman Isabelle Sheridan, the stall in the English Market recently won the award for the best market stall in Co. Cork.

We bought a selection of Irish farmhouse cheeses, Italian salami and proscuitto. It was all wrapped carefully “to go,” and we enjoyed it on several picnics.

O’Flynns Gourmet Sausages: This is a third-generation sausage maker that makes award-winning sausages. “To ensure freshness our sausages are made in small batches, have a minimum 75 percent locally sourced meat and a mix of secret spices,” according to O’Flynns. “We have over 40 different flavoured sausages as well as seasonally produced specialities and gluten free options.”

The gourmet sausage stall sells a variety of sausages, burgers, black and white puddings, cured bacon and meatballs — all made from family recipes. A hot food menu is also available for take away. We sampled the The Liam O’Flynn traditional sausage (coarse pork and mildly seasoned with spices).

Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon:Mr. Hederman smokes fish, which is a little like saying Steinway makes pianos,” observed the late Johnny Apple of The New York Times. Hederman’s timber smoke house is the only authentic one in Ireland where fish are hung for smoking. “It makes all the difference to the texture and fine balance of flavor in our fish,” according to the fish smoker. At the food stall, we bought some smoked salmon and sampled the salmon spread. It was delicious, rivaling any smoked salmon we had tasted in the Pacific Northwest.

At the English Market, we also bought fresh pears and apples to go with our other snacks. We also paid a visit to the fish mongers. One example was K O’Connell Fish Merchants. Established in Cork’s English Market in 1962, Kay O’Connell Fish Merchants has earned a widespread reputation for its fresh fish and shellfish. For founder K. O’Connell is has meant daily trips to Castletownbere on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork, a good three hour drive away from the city centre.

We marveled at the display of fresh fish and shellfish: salmon, hake, scallops, oysters, mussels and more. The fish mongers were experts at filleting the fish for customers. They also were collecting fish for local chefs, who were placing their orders. Queen Elizabeth, among others, have visited K O’Connells. It was redolent to our visits to Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle or the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.

(Historic photo credit: English Market)

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