There’s no point trying to get up Walthamstow market quickly on a Saturday. The meandering mass of shuffling feet, tartan shopping trolleys and occasionally sharp elbows don’t accommodate the hurried pedestrian. You can try and beat the steady ebb and flow of the market by darting between stalls and walking up the pavement, then back in to the middle of fray before darting back to the opposite pavement when you see a gap in crowd. Yes, you can try and set your own pace, but ultimately no amount of swerving and side stepping will get you along the market any quicker, it’s best to just go with it, and and let the gentle rise and fall of a hundred shoulders carry you along until you reach your destination. We were up the market this Saturday on a mission to buy custard apples, we tracked some down at the supermarket at the top end of the High Street opposite the library. It was around lunch time, and someone who pretty much always thinks about food I asked my other half what we were going to eat. Fancy a laughing boys he asked, that will do nicely I thought to myself and we went to order.
I should explain that laughing boys in the nickname we gave to the rotisserie stall opposite the library, and outside the supermarket that we got the custard apples from. The first time we got food from the stall there were two young lads working on it. They were enjoying a good bit of banter and laughing as they worked, so since then we’ve always referred to the stall as laughing boys, though I’m sure it has a proper company name. It’s fair to say that if you don’t eat meat this really isn’t the stall for you. It specialises in roast chicken and pork, ribs and Cumberland sausages. But if you are a meat eater, this is one of the best places on the market to stop and refuel.
The food is pretty basic but very good. Roast Chicken or Pork baguettes for four quid, or a rack of roast ribs for 9 quid. I went for the chicken baguette on Saturday, a gigantic wedge of bread stuffed so full with shredded roast chicken that no amount of pushing and squeezing can reunite the two halves. A lot of people get food and take it away, though how anyone could negotiate one of the giant baguettes and attempt to walk at the same time I don’t know. For want of a better phrase we ate in, grabbing seats on the benches and tables that flank the side and back of the stall. I did my usual thing of adding a more then generous squirt of ketchup to my chicken baguette. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t even consider ketchup and roast chicken together, but somehow at laughing boys it really works.
As all the seating at the stall is benches not chairs, you kind of have to perch where you find a space, so usually you are sharing your table with complete strangers. I ended up sat near the tub holding the plastic cutlery and napkins so became the official hander out of things to other people on my table. The lady next to me spotted the dog and asked me about him, she told me she really wanted a dog but her husband wouldn’t let her have one, “Here we go” he said “she’s on about the bloody dog again”. Customers came and went, the market bustled about us, and all of us settled in to the task of eating our way through the gigantic amount of food in front of us.
Other than the food, the thing I really like about laughing boys is eating at a working stall. The tables are behind the serving counter so you can sit and watch the stall hands work and chat with their customers. On Cold days like Saturday, with steam rising from the pans, smoke drifting from the hotplates and the sounds of the market around you, it’s actually pretty atmospheric. I like to tune out and just pick up on snippets of conversations as people wander past. Discussions about handbags, and him next door, kids laughing or being told off, and part heard conversations of last night down the pub. A hundred stories on one high street, all set to the rhythmic call of “Pound a bowl” from the stall on the other side of the market. Eating at laughing boys is just as much food for the souls and imagination as it is for the stomach. If you’ve never tried it, give it a go. Quench your hunger, and get lost in half heard stories of your fellow Walthamstow residents.