The minute I found out about St. George’s Market, it quickly moved up to the top of my list of places to experience and things to do while in Belfast along with a black taxi tour of its historical streets, districts, and neighborhoods. One of Belfast’s oldest attractions, it was built between 1890 and 1896, but there has been a market of some sort at its site since 1604. It is regarded as one of the best markets in the UK and Ireland. Its Sunday Market which I attended is a mixture of its Friday Variety Market which focuses on fruit, vegetables, antiques, books, clothes, and fresh fish as well as its Saturday Food Market which spotlights specialty food vendors selling items such as wild boar, tapas, cheeses, cured meats, teas and coffees, fresh seafood, Caribbean cuisine, and French crepes.
So on Sunday, I was able to get the best of both markets: specialty foods including spices, chutneys and chocolates, scented candles, clothes and jewelry, antiques, arts and crafts, health and beauty products, and tons of food vendors.
I love photographing life within markets: the vibrant hustle as you move from stall to stall, the perfectly normal queues for street food, random live bands playing in the background as people eat oily foods balancing on paper plates like acrobats on a tight rope with mini plastic forks, the smell of handmade soaps. lotions, and portions, the buttery smell of home-baked pastries and desserts.
Here are a few snapshots and notes on the people – artists, bakers, framers, weavers, budding entrepreneurs – while I explored St. George’s Market on a Sunday afternoon. You can learn more about the market here including its free shuttle bus.
What immediately drew me to Cathy’s stall besides the sweet waft of sugar and butter were her blueberry and star of anise bars pictured above. I wanted them so I swung by and we started chatting. Within minutes, I found out that she was an avid fan of Swedish crime and mystery novels and movies. Our conversation moved from Stieg Larsson to Camilla Läckberg to Beck to Johan Falk and many others. I vowed to stop by on my way out once the market was closing to pick up a couple Italian pastries.
By the time I came back, Cathy was gone – well, was out taking stuff to her car – but I found artist Brendan Megarity in her place instead. I didn’t say a proper goodbye but in addition to those blueberry and star of anise bars which had tempted me over in the first place, Brendan easily convinced me to pick up a slice of the most delicious orange-lavender infused cake I’ve ever tasted. I could have easily squeezed the cake and orange juice would have flowed out. It was that excellent.
I instantly recognized that smell – caramelized coconut. It is very distinct and it is something I grew up with as a child. While West Africa isn’t particularly known worldwide for its snacks, we do have a few. The same snacks span multiple countries in the region. Snacks which are naturally gluten and dairy free. Coconut and peanut brittle, corn biscuits and maize loafs, snacks flavored with honey, hot chili, ginger, nuts, cocoa, sunflower oil, shea oil, unprocessed dark brown sweet molasses. Flavors that took me way back to my childhood.
So when I spotted Amba who runs Ceeba Treats, I was excited and also proud. So proud of her. Her personality is vivacious and her entrepreneurial spirit bubbled to the surface as we talked about her business, brand of African snacks, and her vision to share it with a wider audience. I’d occasionally step aside as customers dropped by to taste some hot and sweet samples laid out. Our 45 min or so conversation ebbed and flowed from her life in Northern Ireland to being an enterprising African in Europe and our living lives seemingly exiled into having to work twice as hard everywhere we go to “prove” ourselves.
A few more snapshots
You can view a lot more market photos from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
My time in Belfast was too brief, but with the help of Visit Belfast who covered my stay at the wonderful Fitzwilliam Hotel as well as arranged a complimentary taxi tour with Harpers Belfast Taxi Tours and tickets to the Titanic Center, I was able to get a taste of life in this richly complex, fully grounded, and constantly evolving city.
Have you ever been to Belfast? What did you think?