Eight years ago, my hubby and I moved from the heart of middle England, the rolling green hills and idyllically charming villages of The Cotswolds. We left behind the beech woodlands and yellow-stone hamlets, said farewell to gastro pubs and farm shops and set off up the M1 to the industrial heartland of the north, the former mining nucleus of the UK, the county of South Yorkshire.
Now, despite my conviction that this was absolutely the right thing to do, (hubby being appointed as a pastor at a Church on the edge of one of South Yorkshire’s primary towns), I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a pang of grief as we drove through chocolate box villages and past the rolling green hills for the last time.
When we arrived at our new house on the outskirts of Doncaster (the likes of which we’d NEVER be able to afford in Oxfordshire), I shed more than a few tears. The local eatery was more spit and sawdust than snail and sage reduction, and instead of farm shops aplenty, Doncaster was filled with pound shops and bargain basements. My foodie heart was breaking, and I feared my taste buds would never adjust to the more simplistic flavours of pease pudding and gravy on everything.
After a few stern internal conversations and hubby *gently* reminding me of the more important things in life, I got over myself a bit and started to gain some perspective. And over time, my attitude towards Doncaster’s food scene changed. As I saw beyond the surface appearance and began to appreciate some of the unique foodie offerings that South Yorkshire had, I started to see what my region could uniquely offer to frugal, but committed, food connoisseurs. I soon found that I didn’t need to look hard to find gastronomic gems, and actually some of the benefits that the county afforded, in comparison to living in the south.
So here are my top three reasons why being a northern foodie is not that grim at all.
1. You can afford to eat out. At nice places
Ok, so my local pub aint going to be winning michelin stars any time soon, but what I neglected to mention that within walking distance of my house we also have a tapas style bistro where two of us can eat freshly prepared, locally sourced food for under a tenner per head. And we may not live within walking distance of one of the finest gastropubs in the UK anymore, and although Kingham (our previous village) had tasty eateries and farms shops to die for (Daylesford- dubbed the ‘Harvey Nichols of the Cotswolds’), its exclusivity meant that we could rarely afford anything other than a pint or an occasional cappuccino.
In Doncaster, we can afford to dine out reasonably regularly, or at least visit independent tea rooms and cafes without spending more than £2 on a cup of locally roasted coffee. And yes, you may have to look a little harder for the gems, but when you seek out local haunts such as Woods Tea Room (INCREDIBLE fat rascals), Clam and Cork, a FABULOUS seafood bar based at Doncaster Market (read Jay Rayner’s review here) or Dreambakes, a cafe selling Yorkshire specialty products, you won’t be disappointed.
2. Quality ingredients at half the price
Yorkshire is renowned for having a wealth of market towns and despite its less salubrious status, South Yorkshire competes with the North for quality independent producers, particularly when it comes to markets. Doncaster’s market dates all the way back to 1248, with a plethora of stalls that gather thrice weekly (some even more often), and a twice monthly farmers too. It’s one of the biggest and best traditional markets in Northern England, with a character and buzz that can knock any trendy London market out of the water. The newly revamped wool market offers a range of food outlets that are all independently owned by mainly local people. No soulless chains here, thank you.
Donny market’s warmth and charm was one of the things that ameliorated me to the town when we first moved here. Yes, I was missing the high falutin shopping trips to luxurious farm shops, but what could be more rewarding than buying fresh fruit and veg of greater quality and a lot of the time, at HALF the price?
I’ve written before about my affection for the fish and meat market, where I’ve been treated many a time to ingredients I just couldn’t get in the supermarket. Sometimes I go for the pure pleasure of perusing the stalls, seeing what unusual items are in season. Cod cheeks, oxtail, quail and crab are just some of the ingredients I’ve managed to discover at the market, all being much cheaper than could be found elsewhere. And with the specialty knowledge of the fishmongers and butchers, I really am getting value for money when I shop at my local market.
3. Don’t diss the discounters
Pound shops and ‘bargain world’ stores may stereotypically grace the ‘bleak high streets’ of many Northern towns (so dubbed by many a right wing newspaper), but don’t let your snobbery put you off the discount retailers. I may not have a Waitrose anywhere near me now, but within a 10 minute drive,there are two Aldi stores, a Lidl, numerous home bargains, and a couple of Heron Food stores (look out for the discounted Ben and Jerry’s ice cream). All of these shops offer a fabulous range of decent products to delight even the most seasoned foodie, if you know what you’re looking for.
My absolute favourite shop, however, is a Yorkshire based food retailer, ‘Fultons foods’, a supermarket specialising in selling premium brands at discount prices. Whenever I head into the town centre I always pop to Fultons, filling up my basket with boxes of Dorset Cereals, Teisseire syrups and almond milk. It’s always a smug feeling when you come away with a bag of fancy food items that would cost twice the price in a regular supermarket.
So, if you’re making a move up north, or are simply visiting for a while, don’t get into a frenetic food frenzy. There’s no need to panic, and in fact plenty of reason to rejoice. The world of foodie fancies certainly doesn’t end once you reach Birmingham, and if you are, like me,
pinching watching the pennies, you’re in for a particular treat.
Well, come on, I do live in Yorkshire now, eh?