LONDON: Borough Market - For the Love of Food
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
“Oysters, oysters, get your freshly shucked oysters”, sings a trader at one of the stalls, “lemon, vinaigrette, shallots – however you like them, we got them!”. Across from him, a rival trader bellows, “fresh crabs, straight from Cornwall, dressed this morning – sweet and juicy”. Another trader joins in the carnival and waves a pair of colossal langoustines, rosy pink in their armour, claws wrapped in tape, “langoustines, langoustines, shell on langoustines must go today, pair for a tenner”. Beams of sunlight intermittently shine through the glass canopy roof of the market – it’s like a giant greenhouse – nurturing all those inside. And when the sun strikes the fish, they illuminate the market in their shimmering splendour. For a brief moment, there is peace – before it's interrupted by a loud cheer from the oyster traders who attempt to sing in unison “midday, it’s noon – 3 oysters for a fiver!”.
The smell of simmering, rich Bolognese emanates from the favourite family-owned pasta stand. “Bella, how are you, what can I get to you”, says one trader in a soft Anglicised-Italian accent with a big smile. The Bolognese bubbles away in a giant cauldron, enough to feed an army – this is real Italian cooking right from the heart. He passes over a spoon to try the Bolognese. “Very nice isn’t it!”, he smacks his lips. He suggests I try the ravioli pumpkin, “Little bit sweet a little bit nutty” and also the tortellini spinach and ricotta – an old family favourite. He will cook your pasta there and then, or if you can resist, it can be taken home with strict instructions, “No more than 3 minutes in salted boiling water, drain and drizzle with decent olive oil - perfecto!”.
At the French cheesemongers, the Maître Fromager, will only let me purchase a cheese once I've tried at least three and fallen in love with at least one. “I think you will like the chèvre – this is a goat cheese from Alsace, it's flinty, ashy, not too creamy, slightly sour and pairs magnificently well with a Sancerre à mon avis”. The wall of cheese is 6 ft. high and requires a stool to reach the gems at the top. The cheese vary from soft cream in colour to deep yellow with vein-like blue streaks – and the smell...well, it's intoxicatingly good if you like cheese!
Exotic spices exude from the Egyptian street food stall – pulses, spicy tomato, caramelised onions and chickpeas have been stewing since dawn. A few doors down that childhood smell of soy-soaked Chow Mein emits from a giant wok – sizzling noodles, spring onions and charred chicken. You can buy anything here: bread – Moroccan pitta, freshly baked croissants, focaccia stuffed with tomatoes; fruit and veg – from the everyday to the exotic; pretty much every type of mushroom that has been discovered; cuts of meat you didn’t know existed; honey from a remote Greek island; olives the size of a pea to the size of a walnut; more sweet treats than in Charlie and the Chocolate factory - and of course there’s always a good old English bacon butty on offer.
Borough Market is the largest wholesale and retail market in London and has existed for some 1000 years. It’s raucous, it’s raw, it’s rough, but it's full of passion - a chaotic madness and an ever-evolving representation of London’s culture.