Given the number of perfectly manicured parks across London, indulging in a picnic lunch (weather permitting) is a great way to spend the day. Not only does it allow for a relaxing break, but it also warrants a visit to the city’s bustling Borough Market.
The Borough market combines London’s two most appealing aspects – historical landmarks and shopping opportunities – to form one gigantic, organic bonanza. Situated close to the London Bridge, this is the city’s oldest market, dating back to the medieval ages; so significant has its place been in the culinary history of the city that it has been awarded the moniker of ‘London’s Larder.’
I made my way there one Saturday morning, braving the crowds across the length of the London Bridge to the market. The idea was to shop for a picnic and indulge in some of the market’s best treats. But judging by the number of shopping baskets on the road, I gathered I wasn’t alone in my novel Saturday plans.
The Saturday market is one of the most crowded, with hundreds of people squeezed in between market stalls. And this is the best time to see the market in action, especially if this is a one-off visit; regulars prefer the smaller Thursday and Friday markets, even though they don’t offer as much variety.
Within minutes, I was walking past stalls of angry looking fish, squids and other creatures on ice. There was artistry even in the simple arrangement of the merchandise, and the festive atmosphere was spiked with English humour, coming through posters and witty stall owners. Seafood was succeeded by stalls of mushrooms, vegetables and fruits. It was a scene out of a nursery school art class, with vibrant clashing colours being used without any inhibitions.
Food browsing (vegtables, meat, fish, fruit, etc.) is incomplete without food sampling, and the market is fully stocked with prepared food and coffee stalls. From regular falafel and fish-and-chips stalls, to the slightly more exotic ostrich egg treats, the market has it all. And then, of course, there are the mountains of brownies, assorted chocolates and muffins, breads and cheeses on offer. If I had a choice I’d never have left that section.
But it isn’t just the stalls. There are also adjacent speciality stores, some selling dairy products, and others, like The Ginger Pig, offering sausages and bacon, while others specialize in international foods and organic juices . The market is also surrounded by a number of quirky pubs and cafes. At the end of the day, I visited the Monmouth Coffee Co. where they serve a wide variety of coffee and coffee beans. It was a great pick me up after a long day. Of course not everything comes for a song; some of the prices are painfully steep. The trick is to browse and compare before you buy.
Beyond the stalls and the bargaining and hawking, the Borough Market opens up another side of the city – an old fashioned bazaar full of chaotic stalls and clashing aromas, a far cry from the synthetic, symmetrical supermarkets that, today, outnumber traditional markets. This organic patch has occupied the city’s landscape for centuries now. While the market’s geographic location has been the constant target of covetous city planners (it continues to face problems even today), it has garnered enough local support to ensure its continued presence.
In preparing to leave the market after carefully selecting and purchasing my picnic supplies, another London train raced along the railway track overhead, with the slight rumble being lost in the bustle of the market and yet another argument over the right price for a kilo of red peppers.