Unlike other cities that have enjoyed a thriving street food scene for some time, Manchester lacked one until late last year. Guerrilla Eats sought to rectify that, as I wrote last November, and so far their popup strategy is thriving. Every couple of months, the traders licence a pitch for a few days, the carts and wagons roll in and Manchester’s foodies flock there to eat and well cheaply in a buzzy atmosphere. They have six popups under their belt now and plans afoot.
And now there’s a new player on the block – of sorts – a regular street food market at Piccadilly Gardens run by Manchester Markets, the council’s dedicated markets department. By strict definition, it’s not a proper street food market because the traders aren’t selling out of their own vehicles but under the branded Manchester Markets gazebos.
However, if you’re defining street food as food made from scratch, on the street, by local traders using quality local ingredients and with a home-cooked ethos, that box is well and truly ticked.
The market used to be the so-called real food market, mainly selling ingredients to take home and cook with although always with a couple of stalls selling the ubiquitous hog roast barms or proper butcher’s sausages in a bun. Now it’s been given over totally to upmarket takeaways.
So, what’s on offer? Well, naturally the hog roast and fancy sausages, but also a surprisingly good choice of ethnic cuisines – goat curries with rice and peas or jerk chicken, ostrich burgers served with onions in a rich sauce made with Jack Daniels (I kid you not), Indian curries, Turkish grilled meats, customised pasta (you get to mix and match sauces and meats or veg) and bread and cakes. I could smell the Turkish grill from at least 5 metres away, the smoke luring me in.
It was the grill I succumbed to in the end, despite dithering in the face of so much attractive food all seemingly shouting “pick me!” Stallholder Eddie made me a wrap of grilled lemon and herb chicken in flat pide bread with salad and yoghurt sauce. It tasted as good as it looked and smelled, and filled me up nicely (confession: I’d had no breakfast). Later I also tried one of the samosas from the Indian stall, then bought a loaf of rye bread to take home from the baker there.
Chatting with the traders, I quickly learned that the footfall here is rather different to the sort of customers Guerrilla Eats caters to. At Piccadilly Gardens, on Thursdays and Fridays the core customers are local workers and shoppers while on Saturdays the mix is more tourists and out-of-towners coming into Manchester to shop or do things. All the traders I spoke to report good sales. It was pretty busy on the Thursday lunchtime I dropped by, with queues forming in front of at least half the stalls.
This street food market might not have quite the hip cachet of Guerrilla Eats but, like it, everything is local in one form or another and, importantly, money spent by customers stays in the local economy. That’s another reason to give it the thumbs up. Buy yourself a McDonalds or KFC for lunch and not only will it not taste anything like as good, produced as they are to a corporate uniformity, but the money ends up far away. I’d certainly pick up lunch on the hoof here if in town. And the market also runs a loyalty card scheme, a bit like the coffee shop cards – nine stamps gets you a free meal next time.
Disclosure: I lunched courtesy of Manchester Markets.