How to conquer Market Square: an introduction
An introductory guide on how to conquer Market Square from a (self-claimed) seasoned foodie
New school year, new you. Time to move on from basic avocado toast to something more adventurous. Chinese takeaway? Try Market Square instead. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Market Square was a life saver for me during exams, the time when I needed the comfort of good food the most (those of you who have binged on chocolate whilst stress-cramming will know what I mean). As a Chinese student, it’s hard for me to find authentic food that didn’t break the bank. Market Square offered that, as well as almost every other cuisine you could think of. It’s the mini version of Borough Market in London, but outdoors (i.e. every decent food market out there, the point is, it’s good).
Someone once told me that they found Market Square daunting. Perhaps it’s the social interaction? The differences compared to your local café/restaurant? Suppose it feels like you’re ordering directly from the chef, the awkwardness of which is equivalent to opening your (destined to be) disappointing birthday present in front of your eager parents. To be fair, the prices aren’t that cheap compared to buttery (to those who are new: your canteen) or cooking yourself. Then again, if you ask me whether I’d rather spend my fiver on a posh panini from Hot Numbers, which are good, but make me want to cry every time I look at my bank account, or say, a Chinese chicken chow mein takeaway box portion of Spanish seafood paella. I would take the latter anytime, and feel like I’m getting my splurge’s worth.
Anyway, you’d be able to form a much deeper connection with a stall compared to any restaurant/café you go to. How many of you get to speak to the chefs in restaurants? And in the case of chain cafes like Costa, there is no individuality at all. Market Square is a great community to join, especially when you’re new and homesick and the buttery food is shit. I once had a 45 minute conversation with the Hong Kong food vendor. It’s a great way to kill time in-between awkwardly timed lectures once you’re tired of being hardworking. It’s also a great way to avoid confronting the loneliness of not having friends to have lunch with (*ahem* no I’m not talking about me *ahem*).
Convinced? Great! Here are a few tips on how to ‘conquer’ Market Square:
If you really are a scrooge or have simply blown all your students loans away on drinks and trying to impress other people buying rounds, you could still enjoy good food on a tight budget. Just go round sampling food from every stall you can find. No harm in asking. It’s a good way of finding out whether you’ll like the food or not. If the market is big enough (like Borough Market, and yes I am a bit obsessed), this might even be enough for lunch. Be casual about it, don’t be too obvious – it’s all about the mentality: you are a rational consumer, weighing up your options before you decide which to go for. However, this is only valid once and only once unless you’d like to be blacklisted and laughed at for being a giant cheapskate.
If it’s an entirely new cuisine and you’re have no idea what that dark stew is or what to have, always ask for recommendations. Don’t just gawk – gawking won’t help you find out what it is and you’ll just chicken out eventually. Personally, I think the food industry is all about sharing passion and this is applies even more so in market square. Stall owners will be more than happy to tell you more about their cuisine, providing you ask nicely and don’t act weird about it. They’re not serving you exotic beetles or something (none here, last time I checked).
Get a large group of friends to come with you – that’s the most efficient way of sampling all the foods on offer. It’s also why I still haven’t managed to eat everything on the menus yet, because I tend to venture alone.
If you are considering hitting up Market Square, here’s a brief list of what’s on offer: Hong Kong, Chinese dumplings and dim sum, Malaysian/Singaporean, Nigerian, Spanish, Brazilian, Italian, Scotch Eggs, etc. etc.
This is just an introduction. A more detailed series on each stall, interviewing each owner, is on its way. But for now: Go forth and conquer!