In just a week, London has proved itself to be one of the more exciting, beautiful, and well-balanced cities I’ve had the fortune to explore. The busy streets are urban and cosmopolitan, yet are magically punctuated with quirky, tree-filled parks. The city is remarkably diverse; on any given street corner, I hear upwards of three languages. Most importantly, it’s a city that is extraordinarily walkable. Daily, I step out my front door and quite literally lose myself among winding tree-lined backstreets–easily crossing from one distinct neighborhood into another of entirely divergent character.
One thread that does run through the city and its assorted neighborhoods, however, is the appreciation for markets. Particularly during lunch hours and weekends, markets are abounty. Blocks throughout the city open their sidewalks to peddlers, independent food vendors, and artisans. The energy is remarkable, the products are quality, and the food is dangerously delicious.
Borough Market is the premier food market in London. Packed with local meat vendors, artisan cheese makers, boutique olive oil specialists (to name a few), the market sprawls over a near square mile space in London Bridge (which as far as I can tell, is not falling down).
In addition to the extensive selection of take-home goods and produce, there are myriad food vendors serving up ready-to-eat local delicacies and exotic specialties, which patrons can carry to the adjacent park that surrounds a nearly 300-year-old church.
PIE COMPLETELY ADORE YOU
After seeing Sweeney Todd, I was pretty sure I would live a life fulfilled, even if that life never included eating a meat pie. Oh, the capacity of the human soul to embrace new things.
Pieministers in an award-winning meat pie shop based in Bristol, but they cater weekly to the ravenous customers swarming their stand at Borough Market. Upon recommendation, I chose the Cowboy Pie, filled with rich and tender cubed beef that had been stewed with veggies in a hearty, beer-based broth.
The flavors were powerfully evocative of autumn and made me want to curl up next to a roaring fire.
Next time, I may be more adventurous and sample the Thai Chook Pie or Matador Pie.
FISH: MY FAVORITE DISH
I couldn’t go my first week in London without trying Fish and Chips. I had a feeling that the fish served up at Borough Market might prove itself fresher, lighter and more memorable than the “Fried Fish and Chicken Galore” dive on my street corner (not to knock dives–more on that in future posts).
Amidst the organized chaos of the vibrant market, I stumbled upon Fish!Kitchen. The prices were steep, but the whole-fried haddock and cod, which, even lightly fried, still retained their fish-shaped integrity, inspired me to stop. The gregarious man behind the counter enthusiastically recommended the fried cod.
He grabbed the largest piece, proceeded to expertly dunk it into a golden batter, then re-fry it. Yes, twice-fried milky cod is everything it’s made out to be. Despite the fry treatment, the meaty cod was packed with flavor and tasted even better when partnered with malt vinegar and a dab of ketchup.
FEAST FOR YOUR EYES
The food at the market was overwhelmingly beautiful–as diverse in flavor as in color, shape, and texture. Here are a few more pictures that attempt to capture how special Borough Market is.
While Borough Market may be the Big Man on Campus in London, I don’t want to underplay how fabulous some of the smaller street markets truly are. On one of my meandering walks, about my third day in, I came across a very special market right near my apartment.
Exmouth Market lives on a narrow cobble-stoned street. On weekdays, that street is nearly overrun by food stalls representing independent restaurants around London. Herds of young professionals line up to grab food from the veritable grab bag of ethnic cuisine: Thai, Mexican, Indian, Korean, Ghanaian… Then, they take their food to the nearby park, which on a sunny day is absolutely jam-packed with diners and sun-bathers alike, enjoying the delectable fruits of the market.
GOING, GOING, GHANA
Of all the options, the only cuisine I had never tried was Ghanaian food. I have to admit that I’m still not quite sure what makes Ghanaian food what it is, but I can tell you that it’s delicious. Mostly rich, meaty stews, every option had me salivating.
Ultimately, I selected spinach and agushi (also the name of the food stand), accompanied by red rice and a lamb meatball stew. Like so many young professionals before me, I grabbed my piping hot food and made my way to the park, where I plopped myself on a bench. Ravenous just from the smell of the sultry Ghanaian spices, I dove in and never looked back.
If Borough and Exmouth represent the brand of markets that await me in London, then I look forward to my next misstep down a unforeseen side street where a new great discovery awaits!