IT MAY be very definitely Belfast with the distinctive backdrop of the City Hall, but the smells and sounds of foods and languages from across the world are transporting city centre shoppers to an altogether more continental Christmas.
And despite the fact the market is no spring chicken, Belfast Christmas Market manager Norman Cotton said stallholders are enjoying the enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment of visitors.
There are almost 80 traders this year, and for the ninth year running the market has been a highlight of Belfast’s Christmas festivities.
Stalls that are proving the most popular, such as the Polish food with its giant sausages and hearty stews, share Ulster’s love for pork, cabbage and potato.
“It has been here for a few years, but has proved really popular this year – it seems people are just discovering it now and it is really taking off,” said Mr Cotton.
At the other end of the dinner table, Belfast-born John Holden has brought Belgian chocolate back to his home city.
“I’m from Belfast originally and enjoy coming back each year to the market. At the minute I live between England and Belgium where our chocolatier is based,” he said.
“People in Belfast don’t eat as much dark chocolate but they really should try it.”
Former News Letter advertising worker Drexel Gillespie was helping at his wife Pat’s homemade soap stall yesterday morning.
The soaps, which come in a wide range of scents from lavender, white musk and many others, are all made in her kitchen.
“It’s really only a hobby. We have been selling it here and at charity shows,” he said.
One of the new stalls this year is Stephen McComb’s Jolly Pies. He started up in February and has been attending St George’s Market and also a number of music festivals. Steak and Guinness is the most popular filling.
From the traditional back to the exotic, another new stall is specialising in apple strudel this year. Owned by Marcus Kochems from Germany, it comes with the option of a mulled wine sauce.
While Monica Skorupski from Toronto blends the locals’ favourites and the more exotic with her selection of teas at the Suki tea stall. The favourite here is a tea called Belfast Brew.
“It’s a little stronger than English breakfast, which seems to be the way people like it best here,” she told the News Letter.
Also braving the cold yesterday was Belgian man Mario De Schryver, who makes fresh macaroons. Belfast is a long way from Bali where he is based most of the year with his business renting sunbeds on the beach. However, he said with a smile, the key to keeping warm was standing close to the oven.
The market also gives something back to the local community, Mr Cotton said. This includes the Santa’s Grotto, the proceeds from which will be donated to the Lord Mayor’s choice of charity when the market leaves on December 20.
It also gave two entrepreneurs the opportunity of a pitch to boost their business. One of these is Rory O’Loughlin from Omagh who is selling his invention, frog jaws – a multi-functional type of kitchen gadget that prevents spoons falling into the saucepan, as well as a resting place for utensils.