Useful StuffThere is a real live actual cobblers (Timpsons) and a real live actual framers (Covered Arts), as well as a small proper florist (The Garden) which sells different varieties of potatoes and seasonal blooms.
Frivolous StuffYou won't want to miss the Cake Shop. Large and small cakes in the shape of ski-slopes, sky-dives, models of famous Oxford buildings and yet more. You can commission a special cake, or buy speciality supplies here to make your own.
GiftsA good place to come to buy trinkets: scarves, bags, china, silly T-shirts, chocolates, shoes, soap and jewellery are all available here at prices which are often actually fairly reasonable. The range is enormous - from exquisite, pricey hand-tooled leather satchels to sequinned hippy shoulder-sacks - there's something to suit all tastes and purses.
Especially at Christmas, the racks of carcases displayed outside the several butchers' shops in the market provide one of the most striking images to carry away from Oxford. If you're a cook this is definitely the place to come: you can get a jointed rabbit for a fiver, quail, pigeon, good soup bones, fresh sausages in dozens of different flavours and proper preparation to your specifications. The steak will cost slightly more than Tesco's, but the flavour will be incomparably better. It's all about the treatment and storage.
It's also a good place to buy meat if you care about food ethics. In the Covered Market all the butchers tend to know where their meat comes from and it's often local. When the deer are culled in Wytham Woods, for example, the venison is often sold at the market. Fellers specialise in organic meat and poultry and have phenomenal queues every Christmas Eve: it's worth booking your collection a day or so earlier.
One of the most striking displays is that of Hayman's fish counter: many, many varieties of fresh fish gleaming on beds of crushed ice. Hayman's also supplies SooShe across the aisle with their fresh sushi fish.
Hayman's says: "All produce sold at the Fish Market is sourced from fishermen who use sustainable methods that can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the target species' ability to maintain its population and without adversely impacting on other species within the ecosystem by removing their food source, accidentally killing them, or damaging their physical environment." Source : http://www.fishmarketoxford.com/
However, no MSC labelling is yet evident, and the staff tend to look at you blankly or talk evasively about the issue when you ask them directly. The salmon is farmed and the tuna is yellowfin. If you know anything about the issues involved you may feel that those facts belie their claim it's "all sustainable". It's a personal choice, but without evidence from a trusted labelling system such as the MSC I personally wouldn't buy it. Overfishing: why should I care?
TeaThere are two places to buy fine teas in the market: Whittard's and Cardew's. My personal favourite is the little, stacked, angular Cardew's with the bins of coffee beans and delicious smell of orange pekoe and Earl Grey, but Whittard's often has cute china and is worth a look.
Ben's Cookies and the Alpha Bar are two great places to go for lunch on the move - the latter for enormous salads, too delicious probably to be all that healthy, and the former for big, sticky, unashamedly sinful cookies in a wide variety of flavours.
The Oxford Cheese Company has a vast range of properly cared-for cheese and is well worth a visit. If you are limited by calories or cholesterol, you deserve better than supermarket cheese.
Ricardo's do excellent baguettes and will fill jacket potatoes with any desired filling. They are also likely to remember your face and offer you your usual. Which can be nice, if you're in the mood.
Brown's looks like a bog-standard greasy spoon from the outside but actually does a lot of surprising extras such as moussaka and Spanish pastries, and very good coffee.