Is the Christmas turkey tradition starting to wane?

In the final part of her two-part series, KATE RYAN talks to more English Market traders as they prepare for the annual Christmas rush, and hears that the turkey tradition may be making way for other options
Is the Christmas turkey tradition starting to wane?

O’Sullivan’s Poultry has been running in the same family since 1990

IN the English Market, history runs deep. Challenges come and go, yet the band of merry traders have seen them all off, ready to trade tomorrow and for years to come.

This week, I talk to O’Sullivan’s Poultry on being a pheasant plucker; Maki Sushi Rolls on Aussie-inspired handrolls; O’Mahony’s on why, if you eat dairy, you should eat meat; and Café Marius, the little Provençal corner of Cork’s English Market.

Daphne Roche - O’Sullivan’s Poultry

Daphne runs O’Sullivan’s Poultry with her sister Gwyn, a family business established by her mother Glynnis in 1990. As young teenagers, they worked the stall at weekends and school holidays plucking pheasants back when such things were done by hand.

These days, it’s Daphne’s two teenage sons helping at weekends and holidays. One of her team often reminds her that, as a young fella coming into the market with his mum to buy chicken, she would say to him that one day he’d be working behind the counter with her - and now he is.

That’s the way of the English Market: layering of generations of traders and customers and the interwoven nature of everyday lives doing everyday things.

All chicken for sale on the stall is of Irish origin. The difference, says Daphne, is every bird is prepared fresh, each morning.

“The chicken comes in whole on the bone around 5.30am, and me and mum start work breaking each one down. It’s a good auld work- out in the morning but it’s worth it; the product we have on the counter is all hand done, nicely trimmed and cleaned.”

The cost of producing chickens means costs have gone up massively for O’Sulllivan’s.

“We’re trying to keep the prices down for our customers. It’s a struggle, but we’re lucky that the quality we have always put on the counter has always been first class, and our customers are very loyal - they tend to stick with us. They know they’re getting good quality, and if you’re used to eating good meat, it’s very hard to go somewhere else.”

Customers’ tastes are changing, too, with more demand for brown meat and chicken offal.

“Ten years ago, it was all about breast meat, now it’s leg and thigh meat people want, gizzards and hearts. People’s tastes are changing, they’re following chefs and looking to try new cuts.

“We have customers come in for the whole bird who ask us to take off the legs, take it off the bone. Because of what we do, we can adapt it and customers get multiple meals from one bird doing that; it goes further.”

Christmas is a busy time of year for poultry specialists like O’Sullivan’s. But Daphne says demand for festive turkeys is lessening with people interested in trying something different.

“Families are getting smaller so the choice for Christmas dinner is changing. It’s not always a whole turkey, people are asking for boned and rolled turkey instead. Duck is quite popular for Christmas because you don’t end up with so much meat. Game season is open now, too, so there’s pheasant and venison available.”

“We’ve had requests for three-bird roasts in the past, and we can adapt to what people want: turkey, duck and chicken or duck, chicken and pheasant. Because we sell them all, we can work with the size customers want and the meats they like.”

That’s the joys of the English Market - fresh food prepared by experienced hands exactly to your specifications and the best advice on how to cook it, too. Where else would you get it?

Maki Sushi Rolls - Conor McNamara

“I got the idea in Australia, learned the ropes in Galway and set it up in Cork!”

This is the succinctly put journey of Maki Sushi Rolls by its founder, Conor McNamara. Despite trading at The English Market since 2015, Conor is no newbie - his family have a traders’ lineage going back six generations.

“My grandparents had a butcher’s stall in the market; there were four generations of McNamaras since 1800s. My grandparents sold their stall during 1970s; if my father had taken it over, he would have been fifth generation. Fifty years later, I ended up here!”

“When I got the stall, my grandmother came in with me, there were a couple of traders she still knew from her time. She took me up to Mr Bresnan’s stall and said, ‘Mr Bresnan, this is my grandson Conor. He’s moving in there down below and you have to look after him now.’”

In many ways, Maki Sushi Rolls couldn’t be more different to the old family business, but it’s also remarkably similar, particularly the way Conor sources from fellow traders. The sashimi-grade fish for sushi rolls and poké bowls is from Ballycotton Seafoods and K.O’Connell’s.

“It was a no-brainer with the fresh fish on our doorstep, and we get a lot of the Asian supplies from Mr Bell’s.”

Maki Sushi Rolls, where founder Conor McNamara has a connection to the market dating back generations
Maki Sushi Rolls, where founder Conor McNamara has a connection to the market dating back generations

So what are Maki Sushi Rolls and Poké Bowls?

“Maki Rolls are a type of sushi where rice, fish/meat and vegetables are wrapped in a sheet of nori seaweed and rolled. The original concept was a grab-and-go food, but everyone kept asking me to cut the sushi, so now we cut them!”

“Poké translates as sliced fish in Hawaiian. It originated on fishing boats, fishermen sliced up fresh fish with cooked rice. People started playing around with sauces and ingredients, like fruit. It’s popular all around the world now.”

Things have gotten so busy in the market, a new prep kitchen has been established in Douglas to make their own kimchi, sauces and pickles.

Conor says it’s been a great year for trading, especially for tourists and returning office workers.

“It was great to see them back, it creates a great atmosphere in the market. We’ve always had a good relationship with office workers, we see the same faces, especially with more returning to the office now.”

Expansion is on the horizon for Maki Sushi Rolls.

“We started a stall at Mahon Farmer’s Market every Thursday and next year might branch out to a couple more. We like the whole market ethos,” says Conor.

O’Mahony’s Butchers - Eoin O’Mahony

The O’Mahony family have been trading at the English Market since 1898.

The current stall was established by Katherine O’Mahony in 1974, and today, brother and sister, Eoin and Eimear O’Mahony run it together.

On the counter is quality beef and lamb, also free-range pork, veal, buffalo, and kid goat. This is not your average butchers, and, says Eoin, it was hyper-specialised by accident.

“This shop would not work anywhere else, it’s the dynamics of what is going on in the market, the cross section of the community that are here and people used to shopping at markets.”

Eoin is sourcing less traditional meats for his stall; buffalo, rose veal, kid goat, by-products of an expanding dairy industry.

O’Mahonys have been trading at the English Market since 1898
O’Mahonys have been trading at the English Market since 1898

“We have a huge dairy industry in Ireland, but a lot of people don’t realise because of that there’s a huge live export industry with animals that are surplus. What we’re trying to do is raise awareness that if you eat dairy, you should eat veal, buffalo, or goat.”

Eoin encourages customers to try buffalo, offering it up in ways that are familiar enough and different enough to spark curiosity.

“I make spiced buffalo at Christmas - as well as spiced beef - and that sells well because people are willing to try it when it’s not too out of the ordinary. We make a Keralan Curry; in India they don’t eat beef, but they do eat buffalo. Or a buffalo burger because everyone will try a burger.”

Eoin says it’s never been more important for those who do eat meat to be open to different meats and embrace nose-to-tail eating, including offal.

“We use everything; nothing goes to waste,” says Eoin. “If I had veal bones on the counter, someone would snap them up straight away to make veal stock; veal liver and tongue walks out the door. Free range pork is an expensive product; we get three pigs every month, we age the chops for three weeks, age the belly to make pancetta, I make coppa [shoulder], and ham [legs].”

A purveyor of the unusual means every sale comes with great advice. Eoin loves to cook, and his kitchen experiments are served back to customers as useful titbits of cookery know-how.

Are customers looking for something different this Christmas?

“People are looking for free range porchetta this year for Christmas dinner - it’s a brilliant vehicle for flavour. We’ll have a small amount of free-range ham, our spiced buffalo and beef. We will more than likely sell out of everything early enough!”

O’Mahony’s have a history of taking on apprentices at their stall, but Eoin has noticed more customers asking butchery questions, which cuts come from where and how to use them. “A lot of our customers would be very interested so, from January, we will be offering Saturday morning butchery courses, three-hours duration for six people at a time.”

Instagram for more information, @omahonysbutchers.

Café Marius - Sebastien Antoine

Sebastien opened Café Marius in 2017 after moving to Cork from sunny Provence. When his unit came up for sale Sebastien went for it and, “Voila, it just started!”

Café Marius’ mission is to provide a Pure Cork experience for their customers by sourcing ingredients and foods from Cork suppliers and producers, including fellow traders at the English Market.

“I decided to only work with products from the Cork area. For me, the products made in Cork are very good quality,” he said.

“I am always looking for the best and it is a pleasure to work with these ingredients. I think it’s very important to work locally, too, so it’s a win-win situation.”

“We do coffee, tea, and bake as much of our cakes and savouries at the café. We are very small so we can’t do everything, but our croissants are made in Cork!”

Cafe Marius: “It will be a challenging year ahead, but we survive, we are proud to be here,” says owner Sebastien Antoine
Cafe Marius: “It will be a challenging year ahead, but we survive, we are proud to be here,” says owner Sebastien Antoine

Sebastien says the market reminds him of Provence.

“I was made very welcome from the beginning. The market is like a big family - we are a strong community, and we help each other. We exchange ideas and advice with our neighbours and fellow traders and that’s the whole point of this community.

“In France we’ve got a lot of markets but it’s rare to find it abroad, so to find this kind of French way of doing markets was very interesting to me. I can recognise the similarities here between Cork and France, the atmosphere and the desire for people to shop locally.”

Café Marius will be trading all the way up to Christmas. It’s the market season Sebastien loves best.

“Christmas is my favourite time of year because the whole atmosphere in the market is festive, the lights everywhere and the nice decorations; the lovely smell of mince pies we bake at the café.”

“Christmas is very busy period, people are happy, they are shopping, they come to the market to get bread, coffee, a cake. We make a very lovely French flan with vanilla which is very popular.”

Café Marius traded well enough through Covid, “people were happy to find coffee,” he says, but this years’ big challenge is the cost of energy.

“I have managed to continue thanks to the support of our customers - I would like to say a bit thank you to my customers in Cork.

“It will be a challenging year ahead, but we survive, we are proud to be here, and we will get through it like we did with Covid.

“The market has been here for 230 years - it’ll be there next year for sure!”

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