Borough Market — London’s most renowned food market — is a source of exceptional British and international produce.
British cuisine can be hard to define and is not known for its crowd-pleasing qualities but a visit to London’s Borough Market proves otherwise. Old favourites are given modern lifts in this bustling network of stalls dating back to the 1700s.
“Oysters! Oysters! Freshly shucked oysters!” booms a fishmonger in a white apron and rubber boots above the din of the crowd. A line of customers snakes back from his stall, hugging the counter where Shetland Island scallops and Cornish mussels lie marooned on islands of ice.
Across the way, more punters line up for freshly baked baps filled with deep-fried mackerel swimming in fresh mayonnaise. It’s lunchtime on Saturday and the crowd at London’s Borough Market is shoulder to shoulder, showing that British food can draw a crowd and for very good reason.
The Borough area of London has been home to markets since the 11th century when vendors gathered to sell their harvests from the land and the sea. When Parliament closed the market in 1755, a group of residents raised £6,000 to buy land nearby and the market reopened one year later. Still located in the same place, Borough Market is now home to more than 100 stalls, providing an intimate link between vendors and buyers.
A panel of experts oversees the market to guarantee the quality and variety of produce on offer. For customers this means new-season potatoes and turnips piled high next to baskets of fresh wild mushrooms of various shapes and colours. Traditional game can be bought, fresh or dried, with venison, hog, partridge and grouse available at several outlets.
At one stall pillows of bread rest beside doughnuts gorged with vanilla-spiked custard and blackberry jam. For those looking for something savoury, salt-beef sandwiches with pickles and English mustard are constructed to a staggering height with borders of dark rye bread.
The rumbling of trains overhead mingles with the squealing of juicers at a stand surrounded by crates of lemons, limes, ginger and apples. Further on there’s ice cream made from goat’s milk on offer as the crowd spills out into the grounds of the neighbouring cathedral.
Although the vendors have changed and the recipes are modern, the spirit of the market holds true to its initial vision of bringing fresh produce to the people. While customers may sip espresso or prosecco nowadays as they shop, it is possible still to see some walking around happily scoffing Scotch eggs as they go — although, these days, they’re made with pulled pork, chorizo or lamb.
Words: Melanie Dower