Just when you thought Manchester couldn’t get any Christmassier, the city took first place once again with its Northern Vegan Christmas Markets.
As a non-vegetarian but a housemate of plenty, I was intrigued to attend the animal-friendly markets, comparing them with the usual markets. I arrived at Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Trafford with low expectations, thinking everything on offer would be just an unfulfilling, yet pricier version of what was typically available at a Christmas market. I was immediately disproven upon stepping into the building.
After receiving complimentary Vitamin C sweets and vegan chocolates, the smell hit me first. Beautiful aromas of sweet chocolates and cakes filled the air, and wafts of mouth-watering fried chicken, rice, and fish and chips swept over me in large gusts. Of course, it wasn’t real chocolate, nor real chicken or fish – everything was purely vegan.
‘There’s No Catch!’ was the remarkable plant-based vegan fish and chips bar that had hordes of people swamping it almost the entire time I was in attendance.
Just one aisle over was The Vegan Basket – an incredibly aesthetic red and white checked stall imitating a traditional picnic, complete with an array of savoury treats, such as Porkless Pies and spiced squash and mango chutney filo triangles.
The markets embodied vegan food of all kinds, offering a multitude of different cuisines, much like the German-themed markets in Piccadilly. House of Habesha dazzled with shockingly inexpensive authentic Eritrean and Ethiopian dishes, alongside Michael’s Caribbean Storehouse.
After dragging myself away from the savoury stalls, I was pleasantly accosted by the sweet treat stands, with the Wild Soul Bakers entrancing me with their gorgeous display of baked goods. From Oreo cookies that were running low – a testament to their taste – to jam and custard cake jars and Biscoff jars. All of these treats were sold at the small price of £2, with the option to add a steaming hot chocolate for only £1 more!
Out of all the food stalls though, the stall that knocked it out of the park was The Happy Mouse – a tofu-based cheese alternative. The sample boards offered chilli, garlic, cranberry, and blue cheese alternatives that were being eaten up by the swarms of people surrounding the stall. Even as a rather below-average cheese fan, The Happy Mouse blew me away, with their immaculate presentation of a cheese alternative I believe could easily appeal to all cheese lovers.
The markets did not hold back at simply vegan food. The several aisles also hosted clothing, jewellery, and toiletry stalls.
Viva La Vegan replicated the vibe of Affleck’s, with a little bit of everything on sale, from t-shirts and vests to tea towels, stickers and badges – the perfect gift for those animal lovers in your life. Alongside Viva La Vegan was the Vegan Haven, where I bagged perhaps the softest knitted jumper I had ever seen.
Finally, in accordance with the vegan markets’ affiliation with Miracle’s Mission, an animal welfare charity that dedicates itself to diligently helping sick and disabled animals across the globe was also in attendance, Pet Respect, joined by PlantLife. Both stands offered information packs and guidance on current environmental and animal safety issues, and how the public can help. Pet Respect also advertised school workshops, in order to reduce animal cruelty among children.
My only fault with the event was only that it was not Christmassy enough. The huge hall was filled with music and chatter, yet to my dismay, the music was only the current chart toppers, not Michael Bublé or Mariah Carey. The hall also lacked Christmas decorations, and most of the stalls also lacked any particular Christmassy feel. For a Christmas market, I feel as though the theme fell through the cracks.
All in all, the Northern Vegan Christmas Markets were a beautiful surprise and a great experience, heralding a new perception of all things vegan. With affordable pricing and fantastic quality gifts, I would urge all residents (and visitors) of Manchester to pay a visit to the markets. You can experience all that you would experience at the usual Manchester Christmas Markets, however, this encounter is completely guilt-free, supporting an animal-cruelty-free and environmentally friendly Christmas for all.