Cambridge Night Market

It seems that whenever Cambridge Market wins an award, I’m not far behind. Having recently been acknowledged in the NABMA LYLM special recognition awards for introducing the Cambridge Film and Night Market, I went along to the last of the film and food nights to see what they do

It was a rather chilly September evening and the earlier bad weather had kept some of the traders away, but there was still a good representation of food and drink for the assembled film watchers.

This was the fourth film night, held in conjunction with Cambridge BID. The previous three have shown that musicals are very popular with audiences, with Mama Mia getting people dancing in the street.

The 100, BID branded ‘fishing chairs’ were full for the first film presentation, Toy Story 3 (The other two having been shown over the previous night markets) and for the second film, La la land, additional viewers were standing in the road and sat on the kerb.

Dan Ritchie, Manager at Cambridge Markets told me that there were less people around than on previous nights but attributed that to the change in weather. That said, there was a positive, vibrant buzz about the place.

Food and Drink

There is no charge to trade at the night markets and that is a real incentive to get the traders to stay, although it doesn’t come without its problems. If the weather turns, some traders decide to pack up as they will not have lost any deposit or rent, which leaves a frustrating gap in the market. The market is open to all and during the summer sessions, traders other than street food also stayed open, but on this occasion, the market offering was food and drink.

As you would expect from a cultural city like Cambridge, there was quite a diverse food and drink selection and anyone who reads MTN will probably have gleaned that I am a bit of a foodie, so I was delighted by the options available, the only problem was, what to have?

Dario, of Grazie Cambridge has been trading at Cambridge Market for three months, selling a range of Italian snacks which vary daily on his three trading days; Wednesday to Friday. These include bruschetta, ciabattas and pasta, with a vegetarian option always available and everything is made fresh each day. He traded at three of the four night markets, this time selling Ciabattas, and thought that they had been worthwhile and busy.

Joseph serves up traditional Valencian paella

Black Rice joined the market in July and Joseph told me that it is going well. Selling traditional Valencian Paella, the proof of its popularity was that he sold out that evening. He trades Monday – Thursday cooking three lots of paella, each using 3kg of rice. The menu includes a vegetarian Valencian Paella with green beans and butter beans, a seafood version and ‘Nana’s Chicken’, his version of spicy drunken chicken, named by a fellow trader when he said it was his Nana’s recipe. This was all his second evening market, which he too found worthwhile and will continue to support.

Neide’s specialise in Brazilian and Portuguese food. Neide, the owner has been at Cambridge for nearly three years and trades Tuesdays and Thursday to Sunday. Her food looked and smelled amazing and the sample she gave me of her Feijoda, a Portuguese been and meat stew, brought back memories of travelling across Brazil. Other dishes included Bacalhau (salt cod), pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and some delicious Brazilian croquettes. Neide has attended all of the night markets and thinks they should continue as they are well supported.

I remember Sunkanmi from Africfood when I met her during my last visit. She not only has a website, but is also on the Just Eat site. She usually doesn’t trade on a Friday, (Monday to Thursday and Saturdays), but has supported all of the night markets saying that they are worth doing and would do them again next year. Her goat and spinach dish was outstanding but unfortunately, by the time I got back round again for a take away, she had packed up – lesson learnt! Her Nigerian food is very popular and she has no direct competition.

Sam and Taki are the falafel kings

One can never get tired of falafel and the homemade ones from The King of the Wraps were great. Sam and Taki are regular traders at Cambridge and have had the same pitch for three years, selling falafel, chicken and halloumi wraps. They told me trade was picking up year on year and that Cambridge Market was an excellent place to trade. They had attended all four night markets and were pleased that they had.

Angelo of Mangia Italiano has also been at Cambridge for three years selling pizzas, panninis and pasta. The pizzas were selling well at the night market and they are completely homemade, no bought in dough. He trades Monday-Thursday at the market but came especially to all of the Friday night markets to trade. He thought they were a good idea and had done well out of them but felt that perhaps a Saturday night might be better.

Lee and Ann’s Japanese and Malay culture has influenced their menu at Nyonya n Ramen

Nyonya n Ramen as the name suggests, sells Nyonya food (A specialist regional Malaysian food, influenced by the Chinese settlers) and Ramen, although there are other things on the menu like Teppanyaki (which refers to the Japanese griddle the food is cooked on) and the Cambridge Nyonya rice, created for Cambridge. They trade every day except Thursdays and have been trading now for five months. This was their third night market.

Arepas – Venezuelan corn breads

Arepas, for the uninitiated, are Venezuelans corn breads, that are a staple in the country and virtually eaten at every meal. They are made fresh each day and as they are naturally gluten-free, Amazonia market this to their advantage. The national dish of Venezuela is Pabellon – black beans, beef, plantains and rice and Amazonia also make a vegan version of this. Their food is absolutely delicious and a must try next time you visit Cambridge; they are there Wednesday to Sunday. They will have completed their first year by the time this goes to press.

Taiwanese waffles are filled with a choice of sweet fillings

Prefer something sweet? Well you would have been catered for too. Something new to me was Taiwanese Waffles. The waffle batter is poured into cartoon shaped moulds, including Hello Kitty, dolphins and Pandas, and come with a selection of dipping sauces; custard, chocolate, honey, lemon butter and earl grey milk. Gain and Go, the company name, has been at Cambridge Market for two months and the waffles are going down well as they are cooked fresh, inexpensive and a fun, sweet treat. This was their second night market.

A franchise in the making? Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best received-img1
A franchise in the making? Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best received-img2

For me, the surprise of the night was ‘Dough’. I love a sample and was intrigued by the fact that they were selling scoops of cookie dough like icecream. “Ugh! Who on earth would eat a ball of dough?” I thought. Well, actually quite a lot it seemed, and after trying it, I could see why. I don’t have a sweet tooth so the dark chocolate one was my favourite, but it really is amazing stuff and even comes with a topping of your choice. This is a pretty new concept to the UK and very new to Cambridge – this was only their second week. Tom, the owner, is an Environmental Scientist and just trades on a Thursday at the moment, although he will take weekend slots as a casual. His dad made the unit, which keeps the dough chilled and has the capacity for eight varieties (there were three on offer at the night market) The stall was busy and nearly everyone who sampled, bought. It’s a great product and I think Tom has a franchising opportunity right there.

Cheers from the City Pub Co

So after all that food, time for a drink. The Market’s partnership with Cambridge BID came in to play here as they worked with their people to provide the film goers with a choice of drinks. City Pub Company was the place to get some real ale and some food to go with it. The beer was supplied (and made) by the Cambridge Brewing Company who retail at the Brew House. They have some award winning beers so it would have been rude not to try them. To complement the beer, wraps were being sold on the same stand from another City Pub Company pub, The Punt Yard. This was their first night market and they were really pleased to have attended.

Not a beer fan? That’s okay, there were wines and cocktails to be had. Cambridge Wine Merchants had a range of wines and lagers for sale and had even bought Italian wines with them to compliment the fact that they were next to an Italian food trader. They felt the event would have benefited from better advertising. I put this to Dan and a BID member and it seemed that it had been well promoted via social media.

The cocktail specialists. Never get in a muddle with your mixing again

La Raza is a Cambridge based events company and bar. They were selling their own, pre-made cocktails. There were several classics and their own cocktail, soft passion. The business started six months ago and their target market is spas and hotels, where they may not have the space and expertise to make cocktails. The business has taken off and they make around 1000 cocktails a week but are trying to grow organically so that they can maintain their consistency.

Despite alcohol being served, it was clearly drank responsibly, as there was a happy vibe amongst those gathered, however, there were sufficient staff on site to deal with any altercations, should they have arisen. There was a no glass policy throughout and there was nothing to stop people bringing their own alcohol with them.

I think the night market concept is a great one, but realise it wouldn’t work everywhere. Cambridge has pulled it off very successfully and I think it could grow into a regular event. The thing to consider though, is, if they started charging the traders for the pitches, would they all still come?

I probably would concentrate them more in the Summer, certainly the film ones, as sitting for long periods outside can be unpleasant when it’s chilly, but I see no reason why they couldn’t do seasonal, themed night markets – and, knowing Cambridge, I suspect they will!