13 June 2023

Scattering rice dumplings
from an old arcade and
the Asia Market in Dublin

The Asia Market in Dublin is preparing for next week’s Dragot Boat Festival (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

One of my early assignments when I was training in Dublin as a chartered surveyor and studying for a BSc in estate management at Reading University was to assist in a survey and valuation of George’s Street Arcade in Dublin.

I was then a naïve school leaver, still in my late teens, and much to the chagrin of the senior surveyor I was assisting I thought it humorous that the same large complex that housed a temperance hotel also had a large bonded store in its basement.

South City Markets was Dublin’s first purpose-built Victorian shopping centre. Dublin (South) City Market Company was incorporated in 1876 with a share capital of £200,000 and a loan capital of £50,000, for establishing a market in the south inner city. A special Act of Parliament gave the company power to acquire the property.

George’s Street Arcade or South City Markets was Dublin’s first purpose-built Victorian shopping centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Bradford architects Henry Francis Lockwood (1811-1878) and William Mawson (1828-1889) won the competition to design the market. But their partnership had ended when Lockwood moved to London, and the market was designed by William Mawson and his brother Richard Mawson (1834-1904). South City Market was opened by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Sir George Moyers, in 1881.

At first, the Market was not popular with ordinary Dubliners, and tragedy befell the market on 27 August 1892 when the massive city fire that day devastated the whole building. There was a flood of public sympathy, and a fund was organised for the relief of the stallholders. By then, Mawson had died, but the centre was rebuilt in the same style to designs by the Dublin architect William Henry Byrne (1844-1917), who had been placed second in the original competition and who is particularly associated with Catholic church architecture.

South City Market or George’s Street Arcade reopened on 13 September 1894, and has traded continuously since then, with varying fortunes down through the years. Today, this Victorian arcade, between South Great George’s Street, Exchequer Street, Drury Street and Fade Street, has its own very special ambience with over 40 independent retailers in the arcade.

When I am back in Dublin, I enjoy strolling through the arcade with cathedral-like Gothic entrance, its quirky stalls, and especially the second-hand book outlets.

Asia Market is part of the vibrant cultural diversity of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Behind the George’s Street façade, the area around Drury Street was once the centre of the rag trade in Dublin. Today, it has a variety of cafés, bars, restaurants and food shops that reflect the vibrant cultural diversity of Dublin.

Last week, Charlotte and I visited the Asia Market on Drury Street, which is within the George’s Arcade complex. This is perhaps the largest importer, retailer, wholesaler and distributor of Asian food products in Ireland, supplying the majority of Asian restaurants, shops and takeaways in Ireland.

For more than 25 years, the Asia Market has been run on ‘customer-first’ policy, sending their purchasing team to their places of origin to investigation, to hire professionals for assessments, and to ensure the qu of products. The shop stocks more than 3,000 lines, with goods mainly from Asia, including South Korea, Japan, mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Asia Market started as a single entity in Drury Street in 1981, offering ethnic food to the then growing Asian population.

The Asia Market sells goods from South Korea, Japan, mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

When we visited the Asia Market last week, there were special promotions and decorations for this year’s Dragon Boat Festival, often known as the Duanwu Festival. This traditional festival in China falls on the 5th Day of the 5th Month in the traditional Chinese calendar, and this year it falls on 22 June.

The legend of the Dragon Boat Festival tells of Qu Yuan, a popular poet and minister in the ancient state of Chu during the ‘Warring States’ period of the Zhou Dynasty. He was slandered by jealous government officials and banished by the King for opposing the alliance. In his disappointment, he died by suicide, drowning himself in the Miluo River. The people who admired him rushed to the river to try to save him and to recover his body, and scattered rice in the water to feed the fish and to prevent them from eating his body.

To commemorate Qu Yuan’s death, Chinese people hold Dragon Boat Races along the river on the anniversary of his death, and scatter rice on the water, recalling how the fish were fed to save the body of Qu Yuan.

The scattered rice today is symbolised by savoury glutinous rice dumplings. Each region in China has its own style of glutinous rice dumplings, either a savoury style or a sweet style. The savoury-style dumplings are wrapped in bamboo leaves and include glutinous rice, mung bean, preserved duck egg yolk and spiced meat. The sweet-style dumplings have more variations. They too are wrapped in bamboo leaves, but are often filled with red beans, peanuts and other beans or dates. There are vegetarian-style dumplings too.

The Asia Market in Dublin is selling both styles of dumplings in time for next week’s festival.

The Asia Market started as a single entity in Drury Street in 1981 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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