For the love of good food….
One of my earliest and most frequent food memories is going grocery shopping with my mom. I often did this with the hope of being rewarded with some tasty snack or street food which would make up for the long walk and the help I gave in lifting the heavy bags. Many a times these would be a simple cone of roasted peanuts, hot popcorn or (as I grew older) some yummy chaat. Having been exposed to such markets throughout my life, it was quite a surprise to finally see a market that was similar in the sense that it was crowded and chaotic, but at the same time very organized, with a variety of new street food options. Only this time it was not in Delhi, Mumbai or any city of India but in the heart of LONDON!
Welcome to the legendary Borough Market. One of the most well-established and popular open food markets in London, with a history that can be dated back to the 13th century (Source: Wikipedia). The market started as a wholesale fresh produce locale for the food industry, but today there is enough specialty foods on offer to lure any foodie. Located centrally and accessible as soon as you de-board at the London Bridge station, this market with it’s wrought green iron gates and huge entrance starts making an impact on a tourist like me from the word GO. Little wonder then, that this historic market has been featured in famous Hollywood flicks like Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). It also appeared in the Savage Garden music video for Hold Me.
We landed in London at around 11:30 AM on a cold Saturday morning (incidentally also Valentines Day 🙂 ).. After all the time taken to get done with the formal processes of immigration, luggage, finding the hotel and a quick bite, we managed to reach the market at about 3:45 PM in the afternoon. I realized that our timing could have been a little better, as the place was swarming with people and there was little chance to linger on at leisure. However, within the limited time we had (till the closing time of 5 p.m.), we were able to take in most of this small 70-stall market bursting at it’s seams with foods from across the world.
As soon as we entered, all we could see were a whole lot of people and our sense of sight confused with where to look and what to choose. Some times too much choice in too little time, might not be the ideal situation for a foodie on a mission. The market started with the much touted and acclaimed stall of Bread Ahead with their myriad options of breads. What did entice me was their olive and cheese sticks and the sheer variety of breads. The market was visibly a meat lover’s paradise. There were birds and poultry hanging in their full glory, be it grilled or roasted. Different stalls were attracting their loyal followers, but it was amazing how every stall managed to sell something unique, something different. A stall with a huge vessel full of freshly cooked and piping hot seafood paella (a Spanish rice-based dish) was quite a draw.
At different corners, there were a few types of spiced wines being sold. Right towards the end, we saw people lining up for one of the more popular stalls – Duck Confit. You could have it just as it is or you could eat it as a sandwich. The duck confit sandwich (5 GBP) was our first buy at the market, and my husband savored every bit of it! The duck was well cooked and tender and with every bite, there was a mouthful of flavor for him to savour. We could see why it was a clearly popular stall.
I decided to go for the healthier option of a hot piping veg barley broth. This was a small stall right at the edge from where most of the organic wholesale produce market really started. The lady had a small pot of bubbling brothat her stall and was willing to hand out samples before people really made their buy. The best bit about the soup? To start with,it was the hottest thing I had on the freezing day. After a small sample, I went ahead and bought a cup full of nourishment at 3.5 GBP. It wasn’t very spicy or very runny. But it was the perfect companion for a day out in biting winters. Wholesome liquid chock-full of all types of vegetables – carrots, cauliflower, beans and brussel sprouts ensured that my rather empty tummy was also taken care off. With every bite, the heat enveloped the mouth and the veggies gave something for the teeth to chew on. It felt so good in the season that even my veggie-wary husband was an equal participant to devouring it.
Next up was the apple glazed pork belly that my husband was quick to spot. Being towards the end of the day at the market, he got a more than generous portion for a price of 6.5 GBP. The pork looked really nice red and crispy, even to the vegetarian in me. The pork was crispy and full of flavor. The apple sauce glazing provided just the right hint of sweetness, apple flavour and texture. The eagerness of my husband to stuff himself with the pork showed just how good it was. They do say, the best things often come at the end. That is how it was for us also in our trip to the Borough market.We walked towards the end where there were enough stalls with cheese and other drool-worthy goodies with a lot of the traders now give out offers to help them liquidate their stock for the day. However, one stall stood out among these.
Like shepherds gathered to watch a divine baby in the manger on a cold winters night (Christmas), there we saw a crowd of sorts gathered at a stall selling just one thing, probably equally divine – piping hot Spiced Apple Cider. This Elixir of Life is served in 2 sizes –small (3.5 GBP) and big (5 GBP) sizes. There was an old gentleman handing out glasses of this elixir with a lot of cheer, which just added to the warmth. This was literally the best thing we sipped on, especially in the cold… EVER. We had to literally fight each other to get our hands on the small cup that we had decided to share. The apple cider was fruity with a strong fermented taste of apple and flavored with a superb mix of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. On taking every sip, we could feel the apple cider travelling down our throat to the stomach and warming up our insides. We felt more energetic on that cold winters day and brave enough to face the wind chill. So much so, that throughout our week-long Europe trip, in our coldest moments we had visions of the old gentleman (now being visualized in our head as Harry Potter’s legendary character -Albus Dumbledore) magically appearing in front of us with cups of that golden elixir of life!
All in all, for us Borough market was a worthy initiation to the institute of open air food markets. It has definitely given us a dream – a dream to explore the best food markets in the world! Cheers!
Address: 8 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TL (Closed on Sundays)
Ratings: Variety: 4.5/5
Veg/Non Veg: Both
Value for Money: 4/5
Food quality: 4.5/5
What we ate: Duck confit sandwich, Veg barley broth, Pork glazed with apple sauce, Spiced apple cider
Overall rating: 4.5/5
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