Can you do your weekly food shop at Norwich Market? Our reporter gives it a go
- Credit: Archant
Instead of heading for my local supermarket on Monday to conduct my weekly food shop, I made a beeline for Norwich Market to peruse the stalls and discover whether, for the next five days, I could happily live off of what they had to offer.
It's dark in the market, even on a bright day in June, and a lot of the stalls are closed. Away from the iconic shopping space, the city is buzzing with the lunchtime rush, but from inside the maze of stalls you might not be able to tell.
It's an interesting place though Norwich Market, it is its own little community, filled with banter, history and unique products, but could you successfully purchase a week's worth of meals there on my budget of £20?
With it being the biggest market of its kind in the country, it would be easy to assume that the answer to this was yes, however I quickly discovered that shopping on the stalls wasn't as easy as one might initially think.
Unlike in a supermarket, where you can wander the aisles aimlessly for as long as you'd like, and if you choose to leave empty handed nobody gets hurt, the stall owners are dependant upon your purchases.
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Truth be told this made the experience a little unnerving, knowing that while you browse for an item, someone is watching and waiting for you to flash the cash.
That's not to say the stall holders were rude in any way, in fact they were incredibly polite and helpful, which was one upside of undertaking the market shop. These men and women knew everything and more about their products, and could offer storage and cooking tips to shoppers at the drop of a hat.
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This kind of service just isn't available in a supermarket and, as someone with rather limited cooking skills, it made a real difference.
In terms of the food itself, there was a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, bread and spices available. There was however, a noticeable lack of dairy products on offer, with only cheese being sold. (The Cheeseman closes early on a Monday so make sure to visit in the morning to avoid missing out).
I don't generally plan my meals in advance. I tend to head to the supermarket and buy whatever takes my fancy, which probably isn't the most practical way to shop, but it works for me.
Shopping in this manner at the market just wouldn't have worked, so I had to create a rough list of the meals I'd want to make. This proved somewhat of a challenge, as until I got to the market, I wouldn't actually know what I would find, so I had to keep things simple.
I ended up with the ingredients to make meals such as vegetable curry, Thai noodles and an omelette, I was happy with my purchases and of the £20 I had been armed with, I only spent £19.64 in total. The majority of this went on vegetables and not meat.
The fresh fruit and vegetables on the market were notably more expensive than those from a supermarket, a butternut squash for example would cost 90 pence in Tesco, whereas on the market it was £1.60. The only consolation I had for this price difference was the knowledge that all of the fruit and vegetables on the stalls were produced locally and was going to a local business.
Mike Read, from Mike, Debs and Sons, a fruit and vegetable business on the market, says this local connection is what draws people to the stalls.
'People like that everything is local,' he says. 'They like knowing that their strawberries have only come from Hempnall and that the asparagus is from Attleborough.'
He also thinks it's easy to get everything you need from the market. 'Lots of people do their weekly shops here,' he says. 'They usually come on a Saturday or they pop by daily to avoid waste. It's easy to get everything here, you've got bread, meat, and fish coming out of your ears. The only things you can't get are butter, milk and yoghurts.'
Not being a big fan of fish, which there really is an abundance of at the market, I had to make do with what I could find at the butchers.
Pickerings of Norwich, a family business which dates back more than 50 years, had a great selection of sausages, chicken, cooked meats and homemade pies. From them I purchased Spanish chicken - a chicken breast stuffed with Chorizo, red pepper and spices which I served with sweet potato and salad. This was by far my favourite meal of the week.
Other stalls I visited included The Orient Express, Herbs and Spices and CJ's Fruit and Veg.
By the end of the shop, I had enough ingredients to make five meals, but it was obvious that some of them needed to be supplemented by items from a supermarket - cheese for the omelette, a little yoghurt for the curry and cream to go with the fruit I'd bought for dessert.
I only made evening meals with the food I purchased and had I been someone that liked fish and knew how to whip up tasty creations from scratch with just a few herbs and spices, I probably could have done this without needing to go to a shop as well.
It's fair to say that with a bigger budget it would also be entirely possible to buy food with which to make breakfast, lunch and snacks each day as well. However I'd never be able to do this... well not unless the market started stocking Cheerios, milk and Jaffa Cakes anyway.
We're very lucky to have such a great market in Norwich and I can see how some people do their weekly shop there, but I'll be doing my shopping at the supermarket, where it may not necessarily be as atmospheric, but I'm comfortable in the knowledge that I can get everything I need.
•Where would you rather do your food shopping? Let us know in the comments below.