A Stroll through London’s Borough Market.
Our first experience in London wasn’t as ideal as we thought it would be. Flying from Los Angeles, we had a stop-over in Philadelphia. Due to airplane malfunction, we were left on the tarmac for nearly 4.5 hours without the air vents on. Fortunately they didn’t put on any Katherine Heigl movies to entertain us. Upon arriving at Heathrow, we were welcomed by London’s biggest asshole who happened to be dressed in a wrinkled customs officer uniform. Probably due to the fact that we were Americans (I guess I don’t blame him) and not of the same skin color as him, he decided to interrogate for us nearly ten minutes for the shits and giggles. Even delving into how much we had in our checking and savings. The weather was also colder than we had also expected, even raining and snowing a little during the evening – horribly freezing! We took to the cocktail lounges and drank away all that happened during the day. But the next day would completely redeem everything.
For us, things can change from crappy to happy the second we smell something delicious being cooked, or see steam rising from a grill or table top. Our friends Warren and Laurie took us to the Borough Market as soon as we could wake up. They knew that this would make up for everything and it sure did. We ended up coming back once more before departing to Paris.
Founded in 1756 and located in the Southwark (Suth-erck) neighborhood, the Borough Market runs from 2 am – 8 am for wholesale companies and shortly after to the public. If you could only eat one “restaurant” in London, I’d suggest checking out the market for the “food court” approach. Or if you plan on taking the Eurorail elsewhere, pack your lunch here for the long train ride and make everyone else around you jealous. The Borough Market finely curates some of England’s best food vendors and purveyors – from meat, seafood to artisanal goodies. I had heard that the selection process to become a vendor here is quite difficult and that the committee at anytime may ask a vendor to leave if they aren’t performing to standards. Sorry Los Angeles, but the Borough Market makes the Fairfax Farmer’s Market look like a Food 4 Less. Although the market itself isn’t that large, the appeal was that of a kid’s first visit to Disneyland. (English accent)… shall we?
According to this cow map, the Borough Market is accurately divided into three main sections. But one should not ignore the fine establishments near the neck, brisket or belly. They are just as tasty.
In addition to the market, there are places that are worth checking out. We didn’t go in because we saw oysters being shucked in the market. There was even a place called Applebee’s, which I sort of did a double-take on. Also right down this same street is the original Paul Smith boutique if you’re a fan of his clothing.
For years, no, decades, I’ve been hearing about the amazing fish & chips offered only in the United Kingdom. There was a time when fish & chips used to be wrapped in newspaper and eaten right out of it. Those days are long gone, but the flavor and experience is still there. Fish! Kitchen (restaurant and take-away stores) is one of the only places in the Borough Market you can get fish & chips. London’s fish & chip scene is super competitive and while this may not make the top lists amongst English foodies, it completely delivers for first-timers. like us.
For 12-15 £, you get a huge piece of either haddock or cod (we chose cod) fried skin-on in the most beautiful, light batter. It is key to immediately add the malt vinegar to the fish so that the heat absorbs all that goodness. The oil they use is vegetable oil and it was surprisingly not that oily as I had though it would be. The skin left on the fish really adds that nice oceanic umami. This was delicious and shared easily amongst three people.
Where there are Jewish, there are delis. And where there are delis, there’s always corned beef! The English version of corned beef is referred to as salt beef and it is equally delicious. Tender slabs of brisket have been brined to oblivion for nearly 14-18 hours. At this particular stand (there were 3 the day we came), the beef is cut quite generously, served with pickles and mustard and tucked nicely into a hamburger bun. As thick as it was, I thought I would have to really bite down hard but it was unbelievably tender.
This vendor’s version of salted beef already came shredded. And although it was flavored nicely, the fact that they’ve already pre-shredded the meat and keep it under a heat lamp simply makes it way to dry. A simple plunge into the meat juices can cure all of that in a second but we enjoyed the sliced corned beef more.
One of the main attractions at the Borough Market is the oyster stand. Apparently there are quite a few. This guy was shucking oysters pulled directly from English waters. I couldn’t believe how briny they were. I had to pour out some of that Atlantic Ocean liquer because it was way too intense. I highly recommend showing up here with a beer ready in hand.
One of my favorite things to do in any city is check out the seafood market. It’s very interesting to see what the locals are eating. By far, Northern Japan, Panama and South Korea have had the most unique sea creatures. I was basically walking around each market with amusement and raised eyebrows thinking, “you can f*cking eat that?”. England was just as bizarre too. They had some fish that were obviously still living in the dinosaur era (not pictured), like hake.
Laurie recommended that we order our lamb sausage roll with grilled Halloumi cheese and a hit of house-made harissa sauce. I developed a love for Hallomi cheese because of its firmness. It feels like rubber but tastes nothing like it. This was really tasty.
*Sigh* the Duck Confit Lady. She was awesome and extremely audible. I could hear her from a mile away offering her sizzling duck confit samples. When I agreed to take a sample, she made sure to pick out a crispy shred of duck confit which was so amazing. I wanted to eat this so badly in some sort of vessel like a Del Taco crunchy taco shell. It would have been awesome. (Yes, I love Del Taco.)
And I’ve saved one of the best shops at the Borough Market for last – Neal’s Yard Dairy. Oh my, this could be the meaning of life. If you love cheese, you may never leave this place and end up asking for a job application right on the spot. This place occupied two spaces and even had employees on the sidewalk “cuttin’ cheese”. Cheese is just stacked along the walls in every direction. It’s almost like a mini cheese museum and the best part of all is that you’re free to try anything. I kept eating the Stilton cheese which is an English version of bleu cheese – unbelievably tasty and balanced. We could have spent a whole hour here.
If you do check out the market, please be sure to look at the hours of operation on the Borough Market site. Also note that the vendors are only there certain days and I believe the site lists each vendor’s schedule. Thank you to Warren & Laurie for showing us London and Keiko of Nordljus and Caleb of the Wolvesmouth gang for market tips. London was awesome, minus the airport asshole. Thanks for reading!
The Borough Market Do-Not-Miss List! There were a few places we didn’t photograph but are worth checking out. Please let me know what I’ve missed so I can add to this list.
Spanish tapas and charcuterie place offering, of course, Jamon de Iberico (pata negra). But Brindisa also has a guy griddling mini chorizo and piquillo pepper rolls for £3.75. If you’re a fan of Argentina’s choripan (chorizo con pan) sandwich, you’ll enjoy this. I prefer Argentina’s more because of the chimichurri – Brindisa’s needed some sort of juice.
This may be the biggest attraction at the Borough Market. The guy here offers raclette, which is a Swiss dish that consists of burning a piece of cheese to the point it boils and then scraping off the melted portion. I was unaware of such culinary madness – but it looked too interesting to pass up. The melty cheese is served over some boiled potatoes, which are also slightly grilled, and topped with pickled cornichons. You need the cornichons and you need to eat this dish fast because when the cheese congeals, it’s no fun. I definitely recommend sharing this with 2-3 people, even a village. It’s rich.
Le Marché du Quartier
This is the stand where you’ll find the loud, but sweet, Duck Confit Lady. We didn’t try this in a roll but I would imagine it to be awesome.
Merguez Sausage Roll Guy
Order with Halloumi cheese and harissa sauce!
Bring a beer and watch your oysters get shucked!
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