The secret East London street food market that tourists don’t know about

The secret East London street food market that tourists don't know about

The diverse range of communities in London brings so much colour to our city.

There’s no doubt that prime examples of this are found in the infamous markets like Camden, Brick Lane and Portobello Road.

But there is one hidden gem in East London that’s off the beaten track to tourists.

East London’s Walthamstow Sunday Social market has managed to not only stay afloat, but also thrive as a main source of livelihood for many of its vendors.

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease and non-essential retail reclaims its stake on London’s high streets, customers have joyously skipped to their local malls for some highly missed retail therapy.

Business owners too have welcomed the once traditional opportunity to open its doors to customers, and hopefully resume making a living in their local area.

There is however, a retail outlet that managed to stay open during the lockdown – the outdoor street market.

A trip around the world

One of these markets is the ubiquitous Walthamstow Market, located on High Street Walthamstow, in the heart of E17.

Renowned for being the longest outdoor street market in Europe, it spans approximately one kilometre of the town’s spirited high street.

The market is famed for fashion, household goods and fresh food, plus a wide variety of cafes and restaurants selling everything from Caribbean cuisine to fish and chips.

In 2018, the market launched an effervescent space bursting with art, design, delicious food and live music called ‘Sunday Social.’

A couple enjoys one of the many delectable dishes available at Sunday Social

Thriving from its diverse array of traders, the outlet offers local food vendors the platform to engage with the community by providing a firm platform to trade and make a living.

Over 30 sellers now secure their places each Sunday at the delicious community hub.

We decided to take a walk around to see what was on offer.

Sweet Creation, a mobile store that offers a delicious assortment of freshly made hot doughnuts homemade popcorn and candyfloss

At the entrance to Sunday Social, you’ll spot Sweet Creation, a mobile stall that offers a delicious assortment of freshly made hot doughnuts, churros, homemade popcorn, candyfloss and other sweet treats.

Owner Gary Ayres runs the stall with his wife and daughter in what he refers to as a “family business seven days a week”.

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The Ayres made their debut at the market in June last year and it has since become their ‘”favourite” market to sell at.

“Not just business wise,” Gary explains.

“It’s the atmosphere, the people, the locals, we’ve got a good sense of community in Walthamstow, but particularly with the Sunday social.

“We enjoy talking to the locals, the music, the vibrancy, it’s different.”

Owner Gary Ayres runs the stall with his wife and daughter

Their loyal customers continue to show up every Sunday: “This is our first Sunday post lockdown and we are yet to see a real difference.

“Business hasn’t improved or lessened. It’s about the same.”

Walthamstow Dogs uses fresh ingredients sourced from the local area

Another mainstay at the market is Walthamstow Dogs, a gourmet hot dog company that serves mouth-watering pork, lamb and beef hot dogs.

Owner John Moore believes in giving back to the community and keeping things local.

John believes he’s giving back to the community through his stall

The hot dogs at Walthamstow Dogs are locally sourced in the Walthamstow area, including the bread used for their hotdog buns which are baked on Blackhorse Road – located just a few minutes from the market.

Ian and Tony run scotch egg stall Planet Earth

Ian, a chef of over 30 years, runs Planet Earth with his business partner Tony.

The duo serve up delectable “global scotch eggs”, ranging from the traditional to ‘onion bhaji’ flavour.

We’d like to get our hands on these

You can enjoy the scotch eggs alone or with a plate of scrumptious potato wedges and crispy shallots.

There’s so much colour on the street on market day

This sprawling stall offers Spanish paella dishes, with seafood, chicken and vegan choices.

Paella is a crowd favourite

Their food is made fresh on the spot and piping hot.

There’s food from all over the world right here in East London

Sunday Social celebrates a variety of cultures under one roof. At Los Tacos, Raymond cooks fresh Mexican street food while you wait.

“Freshly sourced ingredients for the local people” is how Raymond describes Los Tacos.

A range of tacos and burritos can be garnished with salsa, guacamole, cheese, beans and a healthy salsa variation called pico de gallo.

Look at the size of these tacos

Raymond owes his success to recent Government restrictions: “There has not been much places to go to eat in the local area as people normally go out to restaurants for food.

“Once street food stalls came to the local area, people realised they could continue eating out”, he explained.

Funmi runs the African Rose stall with her mum

African Rose catering specialises in sumptuous Nigerian dishes, and has been a part of Sunday Social since it began.

Funmi runs the stall with her mum who does most of the cooking. Dishes cover most Nigerian favourites such as Ayamashe spicy beef stew, Nigerian jollof rice, fried rice and a selection of lighter snacks including: meat pie, a doughnut-type sweet treat named ‘puff puff’ and sweet fried plantain.

You can find Nigerian favourites here

The menu includes both meat and vegan options as well as spicy and non-spicy meal selections.

There are both meat and vegan options, catering to all

“Since we opened, surprisingly we’ve been really, really busy,” Funmi said.

“People have been showing up because indoor restaurants are closed, bars are closed.

“We are busier than we were before the pandemic, so the lockdown has been really good for us.”

Although relatively young in nature, Sunday Social has quickly transformed into an exciting weekend tradition for families.

Christina loves coming to Sunday Social with her family

Local resident Christina and her family love the market: “Sundays are the only family day we can have fun. It’s a regular family exercise.”

The market’s community extends all the way to South London

Friends Paloma and Pailin travel all the way from Elephant and Castle in South London for their weekly Sunday treat.

“We’re impressed by the good variety of food,” they said.

Sam enjoys the diverse menu of cultural dishes

Sam attends strictly for the food, describing the tasty options as “incredible”.

Ashley Stanton, marketing manager at Walthamstow Sunday Social expresses the same enthusiasm for the market as its locals.

He describes the outlet as “a destination where people can come out and grab some food. People can chill, relax, walk around, support each other and then go back home”.

He also explained how Sunday Social has kept the community together through trying times: “The last year has been a struggle for everyone but I can really see the community coming around and staying local and spending local which is really helping all the traders.

“It was really difficult not being able to have certain traders here who thought they were essential but in the eyes of the Government, they were not.

“It was hard to deal with that because this is their livelihood and they’ve got families to feed, rent to pay and mortgages.

“But today they’re all back so it’s fantastic.”

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Not without its challenges, Ashley strives to maintain social distancing measures in an outdoor landscape that most customers resign to as a form of escape.

It is a tough tussle keeping both Waltham Forest council and local residents happy, but if these claims are anything to go by – he is doing a commendable job.