by Danny Rees
A great deal has been written about the rise of the supermarket – some good, some bad – but one thing that is certain, is that they have come to dominate our food shopping landscape over recent years and it look as though they are here to stay. I have mixed feelings about them but instead of grumbling on about their dominance I think we should celebrate a wonderful alternative.
Swansea Market has been serving its citizens and visitors for over 50 years and is the largest indoor market in Wales. The current building rose from the ashes of a wartime bombing raid and its distinctive, landmark dome has sheltered local traders and their customers since 1961.
This is an unashamed love letter to a most valuable resource that we should all use more.
Why do I love Swansea Market so much and why am I urging more people to use it? Well firstly you get a level of customer service, atmosphere and quality local foods that the supermarkets can only dream of and secondly, this cathedral of good food should be used by everyone who lives in Swansea otherwise it will cease to exist, making the city a far poorer place.
A friend of mine recently complained that they wished they had a market like Swansea’s where they live. This friend lives in France, a country renowned for good food, and in particular food markets. While this is undoubtedly true, as it is in most of continental Europe, we all should realise that Swansea can match any of these for atmosphere and great local produce.
Any shopping experience should contain three vital ingredients that will ensure customer satisfaction; good service, a pleasant environment and products of quality and good value. Food shopping should not be any different and you get all three at the market, if you know where to shop.
Most markets, not just Swansea’s, have a wonderful, vibrant atmosphere that you just don’t get anywhere else you buy food. This is a happy place, full of people passionate about food, both customer and seller.
They are meeting places, places for friends, laughter and gossip. You can feel the history of these exchanges and I am captivated each time I’m there. You won’t find too many ‘foodie’ types there, just ordinary folk going about their business and if you think I’m being overly romantic then take a trip down to the market and compare it with the supermarket, full as it is with folk impatient and fed up.
Small producers have a vested interest in ensuring you come back to them. They rely on customers for their livelihood and one of the joys of shopping in Swansea Market is talking to producers of the food. They have often grown or reared it and can give you the most valuable advice on what to buy. If you’re unsure what cut of meat is best for casserole or what vegetables are in season then you only need to ask.
Recently, I needed a whole piece of streaky bacon for a recipe and I asked for some at a stall where it was not on display. They did it, and still do it for me, whenever I need it thus ensuring my return business as a grateful and loyal customer. Often these producers and sellers are real characters, lending your food shopping experience a real warmth and sense of enjoyment that is second to none.
Swansea Market, in my opinion, really does have some of the best produce anywhere in the country. Delicacies such as Welsh black beef, salt marsh lamb, Gower asparagus, duck eggs, Camarthen ham and goose rillettes can be bought here as can our famous cockles and laverbread.
There is an abundance of local and seasonal fruit and vegetables, cheese and charcuterie, fish and meat, all at their eating peak. This is where Swansea Market beats all other competitors hands down.
It’s not just the emphasis on the local or variety but on its seasonality and food when it is best to eat. Take a simple pleasure, a ripe peach. I recently bought some good looking examples of this delicious fruit and eating it later that day was a wonderful experience; you really could taste the Italian sun. Take a ‘ripen at home’ peach from any supermarket and try to extract the same joy.
The reason here is simple; supermarkets pick unripe fruit as they are able to store them in vast chilled warehouses up to six months in advance whereas most local greengrocer’s import fruit and vegetables when they are ready to eat as they cannot store them for very long.
I have given three good reasons why I love Swansea Market and why you should use it to buy your food.
And now for a heartfelt plea, as I worry that my beloved market will one day cease to exist. How can that be if it is all I say it is, with its great atmosphere, knowledgeable producers and great food? At 38 I am one of the market’s ‘younger’ customers. On a recent trip I noticed how much older the shoppers were and I realised that without a more diverse customer base the market will simply no longer be able to support itself. Swansea and its surrounding area would be a far poorer place without it. Here’s why.
The city centre would lose its heart and what makes it special. So many towns and cities have the same multinational outlets, and a vibrant market helps retain a local identity, after all what would Barcelona be without its beloved La Bouqueria market? Where would you be able to buy truly great local food, the supermarket? Take a look around one and see how much local food is on offer, yes you can buy ‘Welsh’ lamb and Caerphilly cheese but these are often generic items.
Swansea Market is essential to the growers and producers of south west Wales and without it the area loses its unique food identity, not to mention jobs and so I urge you to divide your time between the supermarket and Swansea Market.
Buy your dried food and tins from the supermarket but take a trip down to Swansea Market for some fresh food and I promise you will not only enjoy the experience but be able to buy the freshest and best quality food money can buy and you will also help a food icon and its heritage to survive and flourish.
Swansea Market suppliers
Here are my favourite suppliers and I urge you to try them – you can find out where they are via the Swansea Market Interactive Map.
Fruit and Vegetables
For a huge variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables ‘The Choice is Yours’ at stall U2 is exceptional. They often stock local food such as Gower asparagus and varieties of fruits such as strawberries that you won’t get anywhere else. Fantastic, knowledgeable staff completes the experience. An unsung hero of the market is Neil Evans, known simply as the Gower veg man. He is a small operation on stall C9 and grows seasonal vegetables on his north Gower farm. No need to worry about organic vegetables when you can buy from such a small scale supplier. He also sells flowers, homemade cakes and Fairwood free range eggs.
Ham and Bacon
Abraham’s is the place to go for the best bacon, sausage, black pudding, ham, eggs and Welsh salted butter. Ron and Lynda supply the best Welsh streaky bacon (which is better than pancetta in my opinion) and if you ask nicely they will cut some ‘in the piece’ for you. They have lovely ‘Hipkins’ breakfast sausages and good ham from the area. A selection of cold meats and cheese combined with passionate, knowledgeable staff complete a great outfit which is Swansea Market’s longest serving business. Find them at stall 43C.
Established in 1878, Hugh Phillips Gower Butchers has been passed on through 4 generations. Renowned for high quality service and a large variety of produce, this professional butcher ensures the finest meat products are sold. All beef is matured for 21 days, whilst their own farm produce such as traditional pork and beef sausages and cured bacon is also on offer. THE best butchers in the region that rears and sells their own meat, including Welsh black beef and pork. Stall 55C.
Cheese / Delicatessen
Paul, the owner of Goodies Delicatessen sells an impressive range of Welsh, British and continental cheeses that you can sample before you buy. Particular favourites include Hereford Hop, Brie du Meax and a new, terrific Welsh blue cheese. He also has a lovely selection of cured meats and salami and a quite wonderful goose rillettes, imported from France. Pasta, rice, dried mushrooms; excellent tea, olives, Indian snacks and Spanish chorizo sausage complete a wonderful array. Paul is also a hugely knowledgeable and affable chap which makes shopping here a treat. Stall 57A.
Fish and Shellfish
Swansea Market is famous for its amazingly fresh fish, and of course for cockles and laverbread. To be honest I shop around the three fish stalls seeing what is best as there isn’t much to choose between Coakley–Greene (41C), The Market Plaice (57B) and Tuckers (62/63). However, I always get my cockles from the incomparable Carol Watts (CR 1/2), a Swansea Market legend.