Category Archives: Food

The Birmingham Christmas Market

cm figuresEven after twelve years successful years, Birmingham’s German market is still attracting over 3 million visitors each year. Having become quite a popular and profitable Christmas tradition, numerous German-style Christmas markets have cropped up all over Britain in the last fifteen years. However Birmingham’s market has managed to remain the largest German-style Christmas market outside Germany and the German-speaking countries. Running from the 14th of November until 22nd December, the population of Birmingham and the many tourists who flock to the city centre around Christmas have ample time to pay the market a visit. The market follows the length of New Street, winds up around Victoria and Chamberlain square and concludes in Centenary Square by Symphony Hall. In order to have a proper look around the stalls I’d advise avoiding the weekend, going on a week-night evening, so as to avoid the crowds whilst still soaking up the evening atmosphere.

In terms of what the German market has to offer; to ask what it doesn’t have to offer seems more appropriate. For me, the food stalls were especially appealing, and one recommendation would definitely be to go there hungry. With so much food on offer, and the impossibility of being able sample it all, I would choose carefully. The authentic Bratwurst sausages, cooked on an open fire, or the pulled-pork rolls are just some of the hot foods that the market has to offer. However for those with more of a sweet tooth, there are a plethora of sweet food and chocolate stalls too. One stall that caught my eye was serving handmade chocolate that had been carved into different pieces of extremely realistic looking machinery and tools.

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Whilst food takes prominence in the market, there are also a tempting range of
hand-crafted gifts which you can spend a great deal of time and money on if you’re not careful. The market provides a perfect opportunity to buy Christmas gifts with a personal touch, from beautifully hand-crafted toys for children to silver jewellery, handmade soaps and candles, to authentic sheepskin rugs and clothes.

Another stall which I found fascinating was selling metal figures that had been crafted to resemble famous characters from films, one of which was a very ominous (too big for my liking) predator figurine.

cm modelsAs well as being great for picking up unusual gifts and trinkets, the market also has a number of bars where you can stop and get a drink. A few are set up outside but there are also a handful which have indoor areas, all wooden-clad, they are usually tucked away behind the bar. On the rare occasion there’s some free space to sit down it provides a welcome break from the cold outside where you can enjoy some mulled wine or hot chocolate.

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The one thing I love about this market and what is ever-present in it year after
year, is its authenticity. The wooden cladding of the stalls and their produce look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a small German town and dropped in the middle of Birmingham. The dual-language of the stall signs in both German and English contribute to their authentic nature, and even most of the stall-owners seem to be German. I think this aspect is what makes them particularly attractive, and provides a different take on the high-pressure, stressful process that is Christmas shopping.

CM chocolatesThere have been recent arguments about the clichéd nature and dwindling novelty of the German market tradition since their success has created a ripple effect all over Britain. One article in The Guardian said, “What was once a charming, mildly exotic ‘alternative’ has now become about as painfully predictable as a trip to Boots.” Maybe I haven’t visited the market enough to become bored of its “predictability,” and whilst some of what you find that it can be tacky and clichéd, I stand firm by the idea that the German market is and will remain an enjoyable, alternative evening out for friends, couples and families who will always prefer something a little different to the overcrowded highly commercial shopping centres.

By Elin Morris
@ElinMorris2509

Hidden Fruits of Birmingham: The Dragon Fruit

Have you ever tried to stick to a healthy diet but just lost interest in tasteless pears, boring bananas and very mushy apples? Or are you just looking for something new to try? In this series of long but not too long articles, I will introduce you to the hidden fruits of Birmingham. Located in this very city are countless exotic and extremely tasty fruits that you may have not noticed. From the Prickly Pear to the beautiful Dragon Fruit, the Birmingham fruit revelation of 2013 starts right here!

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The Dragon Fruit comes in three different species and are native to countries such as Mexico, Central & South America, East & Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, Southern China and many other countries. It consists of a leathery textured outer skin with moist melon-like flesh on the inside. The most commonly found Dragon Fruit has pink skin with white flesh (as pictured). Other species include pink skin with fuchsia flesh (generally considered to be the most delicious) and yellow skin with white flesh. Personally, I prefer the second type simply because it looks very pretty! (It looks like something out of Willy Wonka’s factor, except that it’s fruit not chocolate).

In preparation for consumption, the flesh much be extracted out of the skin. The easiest way to do this is to cut the fruit in half lengthways, and the flesh can be taken out very easily with a spoon, much like an avocado, but not as mushy or boring. I literally ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ every time I cut one of these.

The flesh itself is dotted with hundreds of Dragon Fruit seeds. However, these are extremely small are easier to eat than watermelon. The taste is not very rich. In fact, it is very subtle; similarly to a melon it has a hint of sweetness but is made up mostly of a liquid. The skin is not edible at all but is extremely pleasing to the eye. Not that it matters when eating fruits, but it does help in picking them out!

The flesh of a Dragon Fruit is quite watery and it does like to seep into your attire and create funny-looking stains, so be prepared! Make sure the fruit is prepared on a clean desktop/chopping board with plenty of space. And next to a tap preferably in case you find that you have sticky Dragon Fruit juice running down your arms.

Dragon Fruits do vary in size, but they are usually not ridiculously large; bigger than an average apple but small enough to be able to hold firmly with two hands.  They usually weigh approximately 300-500g, but there have been some which have weighted up to 1kg.

Dragon Fruits contain a lot of antioxidants which helps improve the immune system. It is also a rich source of vitamin C, B1, B2, B3 and lots of other number/letter-combinations that are good for you. It has also been proved to increase energy levels and the quality of your skin. It’s also good for people who have asthma, bad coughs and can help improve eye sight. Would it be too optimistic to hope that these will rid me of my glasses once and for all? Ah well.

Overall, if you’re looking for something that’s quite sweet and not too overbearing, rich in taste but will improve your health generally, this is the fruit for you. They can sometimes be found in many supermarkets but the best place to get them is in Asian Supermarkets where you’ll probably pay half the price for a much healthier fruit.

By Najmin Begum

Hidden Gems: Old Joint Stock Theatre Pub

old joint stock pub

Situated on Temple Row, at the edge of St. Philip’s Cathedral, the Old Joint Stock Theatre Pub is like a trip to Wonderland, and indeed to its Victorian roots. Built in 1864 and designed by Julius Alfred Chatwin, the building is Grade II listed. Originally a library and then a bank, it has been renovated into one of the most impressive bars you’ll find in Birmingham, with an 80-seater theatre upstairs.
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Passing the stone pillars of the building’s façade and entering through its gigantic doors, you will step into a vast space filled with plush patterned carpets and gleaming floorboards. There are great draping curtains over enormous windows, a marble-topped island bar, with wonderfully atmospheric lamps and its own clock tower, gorgeous paintings and rustic furniture. And that’s before you look up.

On the ceiling are countless historical busts, viewing the whole scene with eyes from another era. Chandeliers and a balcony, where you can touch the stonework, are completely outstripped by a titanic domed ceiling. Old Joint

Since it’s the festive season, their titan Christmas tree will be out now; delicious mulled wine and cider in glass tankards will warm your frostbitten hands.
As a past employee of the pub, I can vouch for their excellent food (pies are their speciality), as well as the quality of their ales and beers, and the welcoming and friendly staff. The only downside is the expense – if you want to dine in a beautiful Victorian building with quality food and drink, you have to be prepared to pay £3.60 for a Carling.

For a list of events at the Old Joint Stock theatre, visit: http://www.oldjointstocktheatre.co.uk/rte.asp?id=2

By Danielle Bentley

‘Hidden Gem’ of the Balti Triangle, Al Frash

The Balti Triangle of South East Birmingham epitomises freshness, flavour and the spice explosion your taste buds desire when you sit down for a true Pakistani/Kashmiri Balti experience. Al Frash, which translates from Persian to ‘The Butterfly’, was my first experience of a traditional Balti. It is without doubt a hidden gem of a restaurant. Established in 1991, its numerous accolades include being a finalist for Birmingham’s Best India Restaurant 2011, which acknowledges its cultural charm.

The Balti is a cultural highlight in itself. Loosely based on home-style traditional cooking, the Balti came to Birmingham in the mid-1970s. Its defining features include the wide cast-iron pan shaped bowl it is served in, and also named after, which is perfect for navigating your naan to wipe up all the delicious juices and spices. The bowls have become a crucial cultural addition as they are now manufactured in Birmingham. It is also, as many weight-watchers may be pleased to know, made with fresh spices rather than pastes and has a tomato and onion base with the use of vegetable oil instead of ghee – making the Balti a healthy and authentic alternative. Although, I cannot doubt that once you have tried the dish and the restaurants’ other beautiful offerings, you will leave feeling stuffed.

Al Frash certainlyprovides something extra for their customers. When I entered the small pocket of wonder amidst the vibrancy of Ladypool road, I could appreciate why Al Frash was praised highly online. We were made to feel immediately at home. The sole waiter, upon being asked if we needed to pay for the car park opposite, joked that we just needed to pay him whatever we felt was adequate. He gave a beaming smile and led us to a cosy table in the corner of the restaurant. It is the perfect size for an intimate dinner and has a friendly atmosphere – being full of locals who were obviously regulars.

We started with the sizzling lamb chops tikka, where my fellow curry taster remarked ‘the meat just melts in your mouth’, and the chicken tikka, which was also succulent and juicy. You cannot deny the freshness of the spices used in the dishes. The side of yogurt and pickles we enjoyed with our poppadum had that deep, rich flavour you look for in a good dip. It probably would have been sacrilege not to order a Balti in the Balti Triangle, so we duly ordered chicken and king prawn traditional Baltis with the obligatory naan and rice. It was unbelievably good value for money. The meat and fish were cooked to perfection, and the presentation of the Balti itself was fabulous: sitting in the traditional bowl, next to a naan far too big for the plate. It was clear, from the stilting of the conversation, that it was exactly what we had hoped for.

My experience of the Balti triangle has opened my eyes to another part of Birmingham’s rich culture and heritage. The Balti Triangle also provides great insight into the communities and culture of the area. Each individually prepared dish has been exceptional every time I have visited. It would be a travesty to miss out on the beauty of Chef Azam’s offerings, and the prices are perfect with the usual BYOB policy. Al Frash is a far reach from the curry houses of Selly Oak.

Holly Abel

@HollyAbel3

The Student Lock-in – worth the hassle?

Student lock-ins are shopping events held frequently around Birmingham – enticing all students in the city to squander their student loans by taking advantage of big discounts and offers. Shopping on a Saturday, in the Birmingham Bullring, is for most, as enjoyable as attending a 9am seminar with a hangover. I discovered that student lock-in events can be a similar experience.

Lock-ins tend to run outside of day-to-day shopping hours (usually between 6pm and 10pm) and involve the big-name chains such as River Island, H&M and Topshop; offering out-of-the-ordinary discounts for students.

But here’s the catch (well, one of them) – it is key to sign up online for these events, which involves a tedious online form. Then, upon arrival at the Bullring, there is a queue to pick up your confirmation of registration before you can actually start shopping. This whole routine is what one might call – for want of a better word – a ‘faff’.

Granted, if you are willing to go through the motions, lock-ins can be brilliant when it comes to finding bargains. For example, Forever 21 – a huge high street store exclusive to Birmingham and London in the UK – has, on several occasions, offered a huge 21% discount for students. So, if one had seen something in there prior to the event but couldn’t justify paying full price, these sort of events can make buying a treat less of a blow to the student purse or wallet.

However, with some of the shops (Mango for example), there is a further requirement – having a standard University ID Card is not enough. For a few of them, you’ll need an NUS card – so it is a good idea to check the small print before setting your heart on something.

The main thing that personally turns me off is the sheer amount of people. Topshop during a lock-in can get pretty claustrophobic, and if you’re more of a ‘browser’ the packed shops are not ideal. In addition to this, it’s near impossible to try anything on as the queues become ridiculous. 

On the other hand, lock-ins can be a great way to socialise – making a refreshing change to a night out. And for some, a lock-in may prove to be a cheaper alternative! As well as the shopping perks, a lot of food chains also offer deals during these events – big names such as The Homemade Burger Co. usually make an appearance on the list. So it does provide a cheap meal out for a group of housemates who don’t fancy 9p noodles for the 4th night running.

Lock-ins can be fun. But if you are looking for an easy amble around the shops then you’re better off going on a weekday. If, on the contrary, you are a ruthless bargain-hunter with your eye on the prize, you could find a real gem. Or a pair of gems.

 Megan Evans

@mkevans92

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Spiceal Street Opening

Spiceal Street has been a long awaited addition to the city centre. Perfectly positioned between Bullring and the St Martin’s Church, the new restaurant dining complex has been undergoing creation since March this year. The new selection of restaurants includes Birmingham’s first Brown Bar, ChaoBaby, a chic thai banquet-style outlet, locally-run Handmade Burger Co. and a Nandos, bringing a new dimention to St. Martin’s Square.

The complex features a modern, curved facade with a sweeping metallic design, including large glass panels allow an open-plan view of each restaurant and allow light from inside to warmly shine in the square. Spiceal Street’s architecture has obviously been designed with careful consideration for the area; though in line with the style of Bull Ring’s modern shape and silver spheres, the soft edges of the complex and natural wood surfaces are at the same time un-intrusive to the traditional beauty of the St Martin’s church.

The opening was an all day event reaching into the evening with a performance from innovative dance company Motionhouse. This particular performance was a ‘Machine Dance’ production called ‘Traction’, featuring dancers interacting with mobile JCB diggers in a hauntingly captivating display. Darting in and around the moving machines, the performers deftly embraced the large vehicles as part of their routine through various jumps, lifts and sequences, leaving the crowd looking on in amazement. The music from surrounding speakers was notably dark and charged, echoing the intensity of the display alongside dramatic sweeping spotlights on the performance area.

The dance was not only impressive due to the technical abilities of each of the dancers but in its complete originality. Aspects of modern industry and the place of man in relation to machine were inevitably triggered by the performance, perhaps providing a suitable accompaniment to the setting of modernity in the form of this new restaurant complex, placed in contrast with the age and tradition still made present by the church.

Spiceal Street has certainly brought a new zest to St. Martin’s Square. The sleek design and welcoming atmosphere brought about by the opening has established it as a potential landmark of Birmingham’s centre. Not only has it created more opportunities for good food and dining in the city, the appearance of Motionhouse and their memorable performance definitely created a new sense of diversity and culture to Bull Ring and the surrounding area.

Words by Anna Lumsden
24th Nov 2011