The recent fervour for Instagram images of food pinpoints the way in which we believe a superior meal is one accompanied by a hefty side dish of nostalgia (particularly if you self-identify as a hipster). For many, food is not only a means of sustenance, but also something that connects us to times gone by.
Markets are one place where we feel we can connect with traditions that have elsewhere been laid to rest without the help of a grainy filter. Without even a hint of sepia, markets evoke the sort of world where one imagines Robin Hood might have shopped had he not been an outlaw. It is possible to imagine for a moment that the industrial revolution didn’t happen as the balance shifts towards food that is handmade, homegrown and handpicked from the family annals.
But obviously this is not 1066 and we are not characters in Game of Thrones or any other medieval fantasy (though check out this blog to see what kind of food we might be eating if we were). As one of my favourite journalists, Paul Kingsnorth, writes in his book Real England, markets today are “a strange, twenty-first-century extension of the kind of chaotic street market that has been at the centre of English life for thousands of years.”
Curry in a farmhouse
Rayeesa Asghar-Sandys, a trader at Leominster Farmers’ Market, has a business model that throws our nostalgia for the simple things into the mixing pot with the authentic foreign flavours that we also demand from the 21st century reincarnation of the marketplace. She runs Rayeesa’s Indian Kitchen, an Indian cookery school set in the heart of Herefordshire in a 500 year old farmhouse. She sells the sauces she makes at the local markets.
Her business, she says, is “a unique combination of Asian and British. It’s such a great way of learning all the basics of Indian cooking, learning about the spices and understanding the health benefits. The farmhouse that we’re in, it’s a beautiful setting high up on the hill, so it looks out over Herefordshire. It’s very remote.”
The curry nation
Britons have been eating curry for over 200 years, and the popularity of curry in Britain today has allowed Rayeesa to introduce the authentic flavours that she was fed as a child, for which there is a particular demand in rural areas.
“Britain is a curry nation, so why not make the most of it and bring a more authentic flavour to people’s homes? I do think that there is still a restaurant style curry and a real authentic home cooked curry, and more and more people are experiencing the real thing now, so people’s palates have changed. They are a lot more sophisticated about what they want to eat, so if you go in a restaurant there’s a lot more variety. You get a lot more authentic restaurants now coming up in London certainly, but not so much in rural areas like this.”
Probably most of us have at least one recipe that has been passed down to us through the generations, and Rayeesa is no exception. Her recipes are lifted out of memories of her childhood.
“Food has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a home where my mum always cooked amazing food every single day, so we were used to that. As you grow older and move away from home, you miss out on those things, so I try to keep it alive and keep those recipes going, and I just found that people loved it.”