I think my friend was hoping to shock me when she invited me to go with her to buy meat. Of course, we could have gone to a supermarket and looked in the chilled cabinets for some well trimmed cuts in polystyrene trays, covered with plastic film, but she wanted to show me where all the supermarket supplies came from. So, we set off for the industrial area and the abattoir!

At least the ‘front of shop’ did not include the live animals, neither could we hear or see any evidence of what went on behind the scenes – otherwise she would have succeeded in her venture! What we did find was a busy room, full of carcasses and vendors in white coats wielding large machetes.


Select your meat, discuss the price and have the cut you require. In the rear right hand corner were several large pieces of tree trunk used as cutting blocks to trim and cut bone, hence the floor was littered with bone shards and pieces of flesh, but was obviously washed each day. Meat is put in plastic bags and you then follow your man (it appears to be a male profession) to the weigh point and he multiplies the weight by the price on his mobile and you pay. All your purchases are collated by a packer, who mostly seem to be female.

The tables along the sides displayed all other body parts: tripe, intestines, tongue, you name it, you can buy it. When we arrived the place was full of customers which was reassuring – the meat is fresh and soon sold. I had no qualms about buying some plump lamb legs. When confronted with a whole carcass, my mind goes back to the diagrams of joints of meat found in some cookery books, trying to remember how they looked. Years ago in Argentina I ordered a whole leg of pork from a market stall and then had to instruct the vendor on how I wanted it dissected! We had some slightly unusual shaped roasts from that.

Talking to our packer, she knew it was my first time there – I think white faces are rather rare – she said I should really come at the weekend when it’s really busy, but I think for now, the weekdays are fine by me.

PS For those of you not familiar with Cockney Rhyming slang, you might have wondered about the title: ‘take a butchers’ means ‘have a look’ from the term ‘Butcher’s hook’ = look