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There is a real food gem so close to home that I often take its presence for granted. Not for me a chic-chic deli, but the grand old dame that is Bolton Market.
Ignore the dodgy fashion stalls on the outside market, and the general hall inside which sells mainly boiled sweets and country music cd’s and head for the two food halls.
Bolton has a rich multi-cultural community and this is reflected in the market. The general food hall has an abundance of fruit and veg, but if you head to the corner stand nearest the car park, you will find a massive stall which shines above the rest. In with the King Edwards and bananas you will find huge bunches of herbs such as coriander (with the roots still on) for pennies, chillies, kaffir lime leaves, Indian onions etc. As a result it is one of the busiest stands in the market, with efficient yet still friendly and helpful staff. You will know it by the sometimes long (but fast moving) queues and a fresh orange juice machine which I have never seen being used!
Further towards the centre of the hall, there is a small stand which does samosas, curry etc. to take away hot. When I worked in the town, this would be a great lunch treat when I’d had enough of sandwiches.
There is also a café/ Chinese food stall where I can pick up little tubs of shrimp paste to make Thai curries for much less than if I order it online. They also do giant bottles of soy and fish sauces if you fancy stocking up. But pass on the sachets of MSG; with the ingredients in the market they have no need to be selling it. And just opposite is Unsworth’s Deli where they sell nice ham on the bone and cheap shanks for broth.
But for me, it is the fish and meat market where the magic happens. This is the middle of the three adjoining halls. Head to the bottom end and the two fish stalls which face each other. The others around them offer cheap, pre-packed fillets, but these are the two to call on if you are looking for quality, fresh fish and seafood. Of the two, I prefer ‘Karls’.
Live crabs and lobsters crawl around in buckets, and the wet counters are a dream. Alongside pretty much every fish you can imagine, you will find sweet giant scallops, meaty squid, king prawns, crayfish tails and potted shrimp. They will gut and clean anything for you, and give you advice on the best way to cook things. We recently made a mega paella from squid, prawns and crayfish from Bolton, and some spicy chorizo and quality saffron from Lunya in Liverpool.
The thing I love about Bolton Market is that it is a proper market. OK, so they’ve added a ‘demo kitchen’ in recent years, but I have never been there when it is in use. It’s a proper market where you can go and know that you can get everything you need. I admit, I have a market closer to home, but there is no variety and I suspect no one in there would know a coriander root if it hit them on the head. So it is worth 15 minutes in the car to stock up at Bolton.
It won a tourism award a few years back for best retail outlet in Greater Manchester and more recently was voted the Best Indoor Market by NAMBA – the national markets association. So don’t just take my word for it – they’ve got silverware!
The market is on Ashburner Street, next to the bus station.
Open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.