Sunday, 12 February 2012

A tale of two markets

2012 is proving to be a whirlwind of social activity. Last weekend presented my first Saturday free of commitments and with the chance to lie-in and relax.

At 6.30am, unable to sleep, I decided to plan my day of food and cultural visits. I settled on two food markets and a gallery. The latter didn't disappoint as Dale Chihuly's exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery provided a stunning array of contemporary glass sculptures. But that's another blog...

By contrast, my food markets experience couldn't have been more polarised.

Formally recognised in 1892 but trading from as early as 1840, Berwick Street market is billed as a quintessential London food market selling all the ingredients for a hearty supper.

Huddled in a far from salubrious backstreet of Soho, in the seedy shadow of the area's more infamous industry, I was presented with a rotten run of just half a dozen stalls. Far from the joviality of sellers shouting their wares, despite an interesting selection, my one attempt at eye contact resulted in a harden gazed response, punctuated with a removal of phlegm more akin to the football field. So as not to make the same mistake twice, tube etiquette ensued until I reached the end of the gauntlet and made my way to the relative sanctuary of China Town.

Undeterred, I continued south to my second choice. I'd definitely saved the best to last.

Established in the 13th century, Borough Market, nestled beneath Southwark Cathedral is a throng of traders, punters and tourists alike, selling fresh, inviting, and often locally sourced produce.

Generations were almost deprived of this food extravaganza, save for the local residents who clubbed together to generate the then princely sum of £6,000 to buy new land, following Parliament's decision to close the market in 1755. Thankfully, 'The Triangle' remains at the heart of the market today.

It's easy to succumb to the hypnotic sensory overload that greets you. Vast dishes of paella and smoking barbecue grills offer a hearty feast, but venture deeper into the market before making your choice.

Your self discipline will be rewarded with a mix of fresh fruit and veg, artisan bakers, and multiple catches of the day to whet the appetite.

A glowing endorsement for Borough Market is that it, along with Columbia Road Flower Market, formed the highlight of my Australian friend's must see tour of London!

There are a number of food markets dotted around the capital, each maintaining their traditional values of feeding their local population, but as in the case of Borough, equally embracing the outside viewer. For the Olympically early o'clock riser, Billingsgate market rewards the explorer with the largest selection of fish in the UK. If you're searching for something unusual, try Brixton Market, home to one of Europe's biggest supplier of tropical foods.

As some of these markets become tourist institutions in their own right, the main draw back comes when the change in your wallet doesn't go quite as far you'd expect. But then we've all been sucked into the supermarket oligopoly price war. So invoke the spirit of 1755 and spend a little bit extra for locally sourced, fresh produce that protects the true heart of communities for generations to come.

1 comment:

  1. What a superb description of the London markets, I haven't been for years and feel very inspired to go and by some fresh fish and try your recipe for fish and chips.