Or should I say, Borough Market in London is all about the food.
London is widely recognized as the food capital of the world but if all you’ve done is stuff your face in the countless world-class Indian, Asian, Chinese, French, Italian, Eastern European and traditional British restaurants and ‘gastro-pubs’, then you’ve missed an absolute jewel located on the South Bank of the Thames close to London Bridge and its Tube Station.
Borough Market has a fascinating history as an ancient landmark and food-centric gathering place, with the basis for its millennium celebration being the year 1014 A.D. if you can imagine that!
Dominated on one side by Southwark Cathedral, another equally ancient landmark, the market’s surroundings couldn’t be more interesting or more ‘London’. Not 200 yards away languishing in a protected wharf, sits the 100% authentic replica of Sir Frances Drake’s ship, ‘The Golden Hind II’ – a colorful and fascinating piece of history. Take a tour and marvel at how spoiled we’ve become by not having to endure such cramped spaces, or sit Thames-side and admire it while relaxing over a great cup of coffee that puts Starbucks to shame. ‘The Golden Hind II’ was built using the exact same materials as the original and has sailed over 100,000 miles, which is many leagues more than number one ever did.
Another of London’s (newer) landmarks, ‘The Shard’ building, can be seen from the perimeter of the market. I think it looks unfinished but then I’m a bit traditional in my taste.
That’s enough of the history, now back to the food. Borough Market has been high on my bucket list for years, so a friend and I made a day of it just before Christmas. London does Christmas really well with carolers, twinkling fir trees, holly, mistletoe and pretty lights festooned everywhere but to really get you into the festive spirit, there’s nothing like a great food-focused market.
The market opens to the public at 10AM and is mainly covered, so any inclement British weather shouldn’t be a deterrent. I recommend getting there early because by lunchtime it’s a seething crush of hungry people who’ve left their work stations to grab lunch. Spirits were particularly high as hot spiced wine was being offered from the start and I can confirm that a steaming mug of fragrant Christmas punch goes down really well at ten-thirty in the morning on a crisp, cold December day.
Another reason to get there early is that just about every stall will offer you a tempting taste. You could eat a whole day’s-worth of food for free by sampling everything from Turkish delight, Christmas pudding, Artisan breads, truffle-scented oils, cheeses and charcuterie, to traditional paella and Malaysia curries that are lovingly tended to in vast, shallow pans the size of wagon wheels – and all in no particular order.
When you first arrive, your eyes will bulge at the towering displays of British and European cheeses, the wild Scottish game both large and small; huge glass jars of fat black and white truffles; pyramids of individual meringues as big as your head; whole candied jewel-like fruits, translucent and glistening with syrup; assorted salamis displayed in antique leather suitcases, stuffed upright like little soldiers – and vegetable greens that are so wondrously, vividly green that you’ll stare at them for several minutes just soaking it all in.
A whole pig roasting on a spit with ‘Happy Christmas’ carved into the crackling had me passing by several times, just to relish the golden magnificence of it.
And then there are spices from all corners of the globe along with some new and different confections such as powdered fruits. Tiny plastic containers of blackcurrant, mango and strawberry powder traveled back to the US without a hitch.
And I have to mention the fish. Living in Colorado, our piscatorial selections are pitiful. On the other hand, any small island surrounded by ocean and sea will have plenty. The market has a mind-boggling array of the freshest, most diverse and gorgeous-looking fish, live shellfish and crustaceans, imaginable. Oysters that were bigger than my hand and fish that I haven’t set eyes on for over 20 years – beautifully arranged, gleaming fresher than fresh and I suspect, were swimming around only a matter of hours previously.
I could go on but that would be pure self indulgence and a bit masochistic as it’s going to be at least eight months before I’ll be able to visit Borough Market again.
All I can say is that unless you don’t give a damn about food – and if that’s the case you aren’t reading this anyway – try to find time in your travel schedule to visit London’s Borough Market and feast your eyes, fill your shopping bag, be inspired, eat roast pig carved right from the spit, dive into a bowl of Ethiopian stew or Gujarati curry…whatever food your heart desires, you’ll find it here – and you’ll most certainly fall in love!