Have you got a particular place you always think of when talking about food? A favourite restaurant, a particular kitchen, or a shop you went to as a child? For me, when talking about food shopping, I always think of St George’s Market in Belfast, which takes place in an old Victorian covered market on Fridays and Saturdays. I’ll give you the guided tour here, introducing you to a few local specialities on my way and leaving you with a glorious loaf of soda bread, fresh from the oven.
St George’s has an eclectic mix ranging from fresh fish to old records, via meat, bread, linen, pancakes, vegetables and lightbulbs, including what I think must be the widest selection of protective glow-in-the-dark vests. The market is always packed: grannies doing their weekly shopping, international students from nearby Queen’s university sourcing fresh produce, as well as the latte-sipping urban professionals, all are catered for.
The big draw on a Friday morning is always the fish: caught in the Irish Sea, if doesn’t need to travel far to get to St George’s, the closest port is literally a stone’s throw away. I honestly don’t think you can get fish much fresher than that – unless, obviously, you caught it yourself.
When we lived here, I often took my young son to the market to watch the crabs and lobsters. It was a relief to know that they wouldn’t pinch us with their pincers taped securely together, however hard they tried. As an English teacher, I am always happy to see that the grocer’s apostrophe is alive and well, even amongst fishmongers.
Here at St George’s I came across dulse for the first time. Dulse, or palmaria palmata, to give it its Latin name, is a local variety of seaweed that is often eaten raw, either fresh or dried. Here at St George’s it is sold in little paper bags, to be eaten as a chewy snack that tastes of seawater.
My friend Edie uses dulse for rice when preparing Chinese food: boiling a few finely chopped strands of dulse with the rice gives it a lovely salty aftertaste that works brilliantly with Asian food. Although there are numerous recipes, such as in this article in the Telegraph, I present you with two very simple ways to eat fresh dulse: sprinkle it on a buttered slice of soda bread, as my friend Peg suggested, or add it to a bowl of vegetable soup, for an extra kick.
Whatever your position on seaweed, soda bread is an absolute no-brainer: taking an hour to make and using only a handful of ingredients, it’s the quickest and easiest bread you’ll ever make. I’ve used the Ballymaloe recipe as my starting point, replacing some of the white flour with wholewheat and adding oats for extra texture.
Irish Soda Bread (makes one loaf)
- 250g plain flour
- 250g wholewheat flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 450ml buttermilk
- a handful of oats
Leave it to cool out a little bit, but soda bread is best eaten still warm from the oven, with or without fresh dulse.
And don’t forget to visit the market if you’re ever in Belfast – it’s open on Fridays and Saturdays, but go on a Friday morning if you’re planning on buying fish. I know that in London you can get fresh fish, too, but never as fresh as here where the actual port is only a short walk away. I’ll be posting on Belfast’s most famous ship in the next days, so watch this space!