Saturday, 20 December 2008

Edinburgh's German Market and other adventures

It's the solstice, and what better way to spend it but with a trip to the German Market. The best time to visit the market is at night, when the steam from the Glühwein creates a scented cloud, like the breath of a drunken god. But night is when it is also busiest, with clutches of people gathered around the small tables and wolfing down their crepes or Bratkartoffeln, clinking their ceramic mugs or nudging forward in the queue to pay for their logs of stollen.

I wait all year for this market to begin, which it does each 24 November. And all too soon it is gone again, leaving me to yearn after good quality landjäger and giant bars of chocolate-covered nuget/marzipan creations.

My family is German. December is the only month my mother makes large amounts of cookies. Germans are cake people, you see. But at Christmas there is this supposed need among German women to bake small, spiced biscuits, often with a tender sting of cinnamon and nutmeg. There are stacks of such things at this market, along with the kind of chocolate that tastes so familiar, because it is the same kind our extended family would mail over for us each December.

While most of the wee wooden huts contain traditional crafts, including wooden nutcrackers and hand-painted Christmas tree baubles, my favourite stalls are the food-based ones. I love the sight of a giant vat of frying potatoes - who doesn’t? There is comfort and pleasure in such things.

And alright, so crepes aren’t known as a German food (I know you’re thinking it, Craig), but I am not going to argue with a woman standing just a knife's reach away from countless jars of Nutella. Crepes are good. Nutella is good. Let us not disturb the goodness. Besides, the person making the crepes is German, and that has to count for something.
But my number one food experience recommendation is a visit to the steak-in-a-roll shed. For me, it is because these taste just like the ones my dad barbecues in the summer. More than this however I love to watch how men often amble helplessly toward the smell and sight of grilling meat. Suddenly they want nothing more than to possess a pork steak served with a great pile of sauerkraut, a dollop of herb or garlic sauce and, if they really want a treat, a sliced, tart pickle. They can hold the giant, messy catch in their hands and feel as if they had killed it themselves. For it is both barbaric and beautiful.

The guys running the place also never seem to succumb to the long days of cold and often wet weather. As the market draws to a close on Christmas Eve, you can see that many of the vendors are counting the days. But these guys are chipper and genuinely seem to be having a good time, which makes them stand out.

Just next door to the German market is the Scottish Christmas market. Alas, the Stoats Porridge folks have not returned for another run. Last year was their first go at the Christmas market (they are year-round regulars at Edinburgh’s Farmer’s Market), and it seems the experience was not worth repeating. Sad, as a tub o’ white chocolate and toasted hazelnut porridge would have gone down a treat today. I did see one familiar face from the farmer’s market, being the cheddar cheese lady. But she had such a group gathered around her that I didn’t stand a chance for a photo. Such is the power of good cheese. There are plenty of crafts here as well, with the traditional Scottish knitted hat dominating many a product spinner. But I didn’t need a hat, so I moved on.
Past the Scottish market begin the rides. They start with the tea cups and the carousel (strangely enough, it is the very carousel that helped inspire my pleasure dome ramble). Then they get more serious, such as the giant Ferris wheel and the ride I like to call CHAIR-O-PLANE OF DOOM! This is the ride you take if your greatest desire is to be hurled repeatedly through the air toward the sombre gothic stones of the Walter Scott Monument. Never, ever, EVER again.
My travels today took me down Prince’s Street, through the market and then over Waverly Bridge, where I met Ronnie, a driver for one of the hop-on, hop-off bus companies. Ronnie looked set to wear that smile pasted on his face all day, as he combined his regular duties with raising money for the local children’s hospice charity.

Then it was up Cockburn Street (pronounced Coburn; what a missed opportunity), up the Royal Mile, over George IV Bridge for a visit to Hilary‘s Bazaar, followed by a jaunt round the graveyard at Greyfriar’s Kirk (mmm…gothic…more on this some other time). Then down Candlemaker Row to Grassmarket to pop into Armstrong’s before trekking up Victoria Street in order to get back to the Mile.

And here is where I end, on a very sad note indeed. Khushi’s, one of Edinburgh’s best known Indian restaurants (started by Khushi Mohammed in 1947), was gutted by a fire that broke out Friday night. Many of the shops on Victoria Street were still without power today as fire crews continued the cleanup and secured what is left of the building, which also houses The Liquid Rooms, a popular concert venue.

Poor Khushi’s. I am thinking of all the staff who are now heading into the New Year without work (Britain’s job market is quite dire at the moment). And of course the Mohammed family, who have seen so much of 60 years of hard work and love of good food go up in smoke.


Anonymous said...

seriously, growl.

Anonymous said...

Shame about the porridge guys not being there. I enjoyed that last year.

Jacqui said...

I love your photos of the German market, you've really captured the cheerfulness of the whole event. I was delighted to see the guy who sells the fried potatoes with bacon and always asks if you want double portions or a soft drink :-)