The Shambles is York’s most famous street, a picturesque cobbled alley lined with quaint shops and filled with vibrant visitors. Its buildings date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and are immaculately preserved, though their uses have certainly changed; where once the Shambles was home to dozens of butchers, each specialising in a different meat, now the stores are mostly gifts and eateries, though many independents and specialists still reside here.
In keeping with its historic roots, a more recent arrival, Shambles Market, has restored the area’s food trading origins and continues the city’s traditions of hosting markets all the way back to the 8th century. Since then, stalls have sold an array of goods at different locations, and in the 1960s onwards, regularly here. Running daily under a different moniker from the 90s, it was renamed Shambles Market in 2014, when a refurb turned it into the inviting place it is today.
A mooch around will soon discover a wide choice on offer, from flowers to fashion to food, and indeed the latter can provide a full grocery shopping experience. There are independent vendors trading artisanal produce throughout, and your pantries and fridges can be filled by the fruit, veg, bread, sweets, meat, fish, cheese, eggs and other delicious delicacies available. Here are a few to put on your shopping list:
Let’s start healthily, by grabbing a load of fresh fruit and veg, and there are a handful of greengrocers to do this at. Nearby, Sheila’s Fruit and Veg displays a spectrum of colourful nourishing quality. Another couple, Gordon and Jane, also had a greengrocers here for many years, selling locally selected produce, before retirement passed the knowledge and tradition on to their son, James David. And Harrison’s is also a generation giving business, who grow much of their own produce, from soft summer tomatoes to hardy winter greens.
On to the fish course, where a couple of traders are regularly bringing delicious fresh seafood from the east coast to Shambles Market. Making that clear in the name is Whitby Sea Fish, owned by Whitby living Trevor, who brings early catches from his home town to York daily. This can be a changing range of whatever the fishermen hooked, but look out especially for the whole and dressed crabs. A market favourite fishmonger, Cross of York have also spread their expertise further. As well as supplying York restaurants and Shambles customers for decades, Cross’ fish has crossed the country and even made tv appearances. Andrew is the President for the National Federation of Fishmongers, and the high quality and sustainable ethos is evident in both their fresh and shell, in simple cod and cockles, and in luxurious lobster and monkfish.
Moving on to meat, and keeping up the centuries old origins of the Shambles, are Swains Family Butchers. Established in the seventies, then handed down to David, who now operates a business that is in the blood, ensuring quality cuts of locally sourced meats, hot and cold. Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shoppe follows suit, specialising in pork, with an incredible variety of the stuff; there’s properly prepared bacon, a huge range of flavoured sausages, great pork pies, and all the other porky perfection to take home and cook or buy ready to eat now.
There’s always room for dessert, and here there is always a sweet sweet selection. Tray Delicious set up a stall of wonderfully indulgent treats, all baked by Lucy, featuring favourite chocolate brownies and experimental meringues. That Fudge Guy is a man called Roy making home cooked fudge in the best old fashioned way, and tasting all the more irresistible for it. Auntie Emily’s has a similar ethos and method, this time creating terrific traditional toffees. And Toffee Smith’s, a 19th century confectionary company brought to York from their Halifax home, complete the hat trick alongside lots of other naughtiness.
That’s many a full meal of food already, but still there are more stalls to stock up at. For the cheese, check out Harvey’s board of Yorkshire varieties, from the subtle to the strong. For bread baked better, go to what was Via Vecchia, a popular bakery made even tastier since last year becoming Pinder & Scott. And for special quality deli delights, Henshelwoods will provide oils, pastas and plenty more, plus the local beers to wash it all down with.
There is more instantly edible excellence here too, at Newgate Hog Roast and The Brunch Wagon, and notably at Shambles Food Court, where street food from around the world is served up. Throughout Shambles Market, all tastes are catered for, with added character, quality, ethics, and no less choice. It may well become more than just a niche visit, and instead be the place to liven up your weekly big shop.