Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Borough Market, London

When I found out that I’d be in London this week for a couple of days, my thoughts immediately turned to what food-related things I could fit into my schedule. Tea and scones, check. Curry, check. A visit to Japan Centre, check. But at the top of my list was a proper roam around Borough Market.

Long time readers of Just Hungry may know that I absolutely love markets, and go to them whenever and wherever I can. One big reason I’ve decided to move to the south of France is because of the wonderful markets here. So, how does London’s oldest market compare to some of my favorites? While Borough Market is not the biggest market, nor does it have the widest selection, or even the best selection, of foodstuffs, it’s a very special place. In my opinion, it’s simply the most intellectually pleasing market there is.

Let’s start with the literary quotes on colorful banners, hanging from the beams:

Borough Market, London

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Of course, there has to be at least one from Shakepeare.

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I think this one is my favorite.

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A little lower down, there are the boards displayed by individual vendors. This one is at the Fish Kitchen (aka Fish!), a fish and chips purveyor.

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(This is the fish and chips they talk of, eaten sprinkled with vinegar and salt of course.)

Fish and Chips, the real deal.

This tree shaped sign stands next to a stall selling jams and chutneys.

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This one is so beautifully done, I wouldn’t mind hanging it on my wall as art. I wonder if there are graphic design pros that create these display boards, or if the stall holders letter them themselves?

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A sign of the times, but with a sense of humor.

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How could you resist pies with such cheerful features?

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Here’s the cheese display at Neal’s Yard Dairy. The contents and provenance of each cheese is carefully noted, though of course if you ask the cheesemongers they’ll happily explain it to you all over again, together with a sample.

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One big cheese, made with love.

Big Cheese!

It’s not just the fans of the written word that are happy here. How about these displays of vegetables, just like still life paintings?

Borough Market, London: Vegetable display

Even humble onions and potatoes get the artistic treatment.

Borough Market, London: Another vegetable display

I’ve seen witty signage and beautiful displays like this elsewhere in the UK, but at Borough Market you get to see the best, all in one place.

Food wise, the prepared foods are the main draw of Borough Market, especially for visitors. You can get everything from fish and chips to Thai green curry to hot dogs to chicken sandwiches. You can eat things on the spot, or take them home with you. And the samples are plentiful - here some rose-scented Turkish Delight; there some date and apple chutney; and how about some gluten-free chocolate brownies, or perhaps some Eccles cake? You could probably make a meal of just the samples. But don’t miss out on the meat pies, the sausage rolls, the domestic and imported cheeses, and so much more.

Having spent some of my growing up years in England, I have a special spot in my heart, not to mention my stomach, for British food. I know that British food still has a bad reputation in other countries, but a visit to Borough Market will do a lot to rid you of such misconceptions. At its finest, British food is grand.

Borough Market is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Check for hours and directions on the official website.

(Footnote: My favorite food of the whole market:)

British meat pies!

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hapa bento | 13 June, 2009 - 01:17

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Wow--I wish we had a market that satisfying in the States!

Zonodon | 13 June, 2009 - 01:43

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

There is a covered market in Boston, I cannot vouch for the quality of the market now since the last time I was there was around 1997 (and not too knowledgeable about produce or cooking yet, as a young teen still eating goldfish crackers on a regular basis).

Stephanie | 15 June, 2009 - 19:44

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

There are several actually, though perhaps lacking the literary quotes. For instance the market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco is fantastic. The Farmer's Market in LA is not bad either (esp. for prepared foods). There are several open air and covered markets in NYC. And so on.

maki | 15 June, 2009 - 23:27

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

I used to love wandering round that area of London many years ago. The market wasn't anything like as good then, though. I now live in Ontario, in Canada, where they just don't seem to 'get' markets like the English do. I feel so homesick now!

sushidushi | 13 June, 2009 - 03:56

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

I'm a Brit, and I had no idea how fancy shmancy this market is - probably because celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has mentioned it a few times, and I think he lives/works nearby. I hope the quality reflected the prices: £7.95 for fish with chips costing extra is not cheap! Having said that, it's now on my list for a visit.

Lola | 13 June, 2009 - 09:43

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Actually, £7.95 is for the fish with the chips; the separate price you see for chips is for the chips only (and a huge bag of them at that). To me, it's a pretty fair price for what was a

HUUUUUUUUUGE

piece of cod with a

HUUUUUUUUUUGE

mound of freshly fried chips!

maki | 13 June, 2009 - 20:26

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

I feel ashamed that I've lived all my life in the UK and never been here! Thank you for opening my eyes, Maki; this is a must the next time I visit London. It looks as worthy an attraction as any of the tourist draws, and it looks like it encompasses everything I love most about market culture.

pii_bii | 13 June, 2009 - 14:33

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

mmmm pork and stilton wrapped up in that crust.... looks like heaven! :D

erisgrrrl | 13 June, 2009 - 15:18

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

I think you've summed it up perfectly, Maki.
"Food wise, the prepared foods are the main draw of Borough Market"
And, unless my memory is being really tricksy with me, I don't think this market was always quite so heavily balanced towards the visitor.
For a while now, I tend to feel disappointment during my visits here as I long for more fresh produce, particularly good quality ingredients that are affordable (they don't have to be that cheap to be good value). When I was stuck at home for health reasons there was no problem in receiving boxes of delivered organic vegetables, now I'm back at work this is impossible.
Borough market is now geared for adventurous non-cooks. Sums up the climate here in London, there's a wealth of cooking shows and recipe books are very popular, but few people like to actually cook anything (and when they do there's a desire to use modish and expensive ingredients - you can see this tendency in Masterchef). Borough market fulfills this desire perfectly.
Last time I went to Borough market amongst what I picked up were: a posy of fresh herbs, some of which I have no idea what they were - these made a delicious omelet. A bunch of white asparagus - divine! Some first rate hojicha and sencha from EastTeas. Cheese, bread and milk from the Neals Yard Dairy - picked up a terrific pamphlet over the REAL dangers of eating cheese when pregnant which was helpful and informative. Some gorgeous apples that still had some crunch to them (I was allowed to try before I bought). But the main reason I went was to find the kind of young artichoke I enjoy eating during late Spring time in Spain. Only one place had them and I then found they had almost no flavour, which was a real blow.

The sad thing is that there isn't that much difference between coming here and going to the Waitrose at the Brunswick Centre on a Saturday. A modest farmers market has opened at this centre so that there are now a decent selection of stalls selling beautiful local produce as well as the prepared dishes that draw the crowds in Bermondsey. Avoid the 'paella', which is in no way authentic, but the takoyaki (staffed by some lovely Osakans) is OK (although I think the cooking temperature was too high, a bit over gooey in the centre). But the real star is the fruit and veg section in Waitrose itself. The heirloom tomatoes are the best I've ever eaten in England, way better than what saw at Borough Market.
I wish that particular Waitrose wasn't the best place to get outstanding local produce. I'd love to see the sort of market one takes for granted in France or Spain in London.

Loretta | 13 June, 2009 - 18:13

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Loretta, I guess to be fair, the markets in Spain and France have the advantage of having much readier access to local or almost-locally grown produce. I must admit that I was not hugely impressed with the produce at Borough Market, but I did put that down to the fact that I'm living in Provence right now, with access to the most amazing, mostly locally grown, fruits and veg, and in comparison just about everything else fades. And, also to be fair, if you compare the quality of what's available at supermarkets in France vs. the UK, I would say that the UK may have an edge. I guess that Borough Market does fulfill one role of a food market in that it's very entertaining! Also, while there does seem to be a preponderence of prepared-food vendors, perhaps that just reflects the demands of the local clientele (lots of office workers having lunch there). It could just be that more people in London rely on box deliveries of produce - which wouldn't really surprise me.

(As an aside, I can now say that the markets in little Zürich, with a population of about 1/20th of London, has an array of really nice fresh produce markets - one almost every day of the week! Produce delivery services are as yet almost unknown so far there...)

maki | 13 June, 2009 - 20:38

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

I think that's another excellent summary. I also believe that Borough Market does a very good job of fulfilling the real needs and desires of its clientele.
It makes it a very satisfying place to take visiting friends, just not the dream market I'd love to visit weekly in order to do some 'genuine' rather than novelty/instant gratification shopping. I just have to accept that my needs aren't shared by those who frequent the market - and I can't help but feel wistful as Borough Market did once, for a time, fulfill those needs beautifully.
I guess I posted the whinge as I feel frustrated that so much great produce is available in London but is inaccessible (at reasonable prices) to those of us who work standard hours and so cannot accept a regular food-box delivery. Oh well, I'll be on maternity leave later this year so veg-boxes will be a real bonus.

Loretta | 14 June, 2009 - 11:43

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Loretta, have you got somewhere outside your house/apartment where a veg-box could be left? I order from Riverford, and they're always happy to leave the box in a nominated "safe place" while I'm at work. If not, enjoy your maternity leave!

Ally Wilkes | 14 June, 2009 - 19:16

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Just three and half months and I'll get to visit this wonderful market! It's been eight years since my last visit and I'm hungry already.

HezmanaGirl | 13 June, 2009 - 23:56

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Might I suggest if you want to try a REAL Melton Mowbray pork pie (the superior version by far) you pay a little visit to Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, and the 'Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe' (aka Dickenson & Morris)? They sometimes do demonstrations that you can join in on. Stilton cheese is another local speciality. :)

Djinn | 14 June, 2009 - 00:49

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

I think I recognise the label on the pork pies - they're Mrs King's pies, if I'm right, and they are proper Melton Mowbray ones. I've tried them, and they are really superb, I reckon better than Dickinson and Morris. Not to mention they're award winning (gold in this year's British Pie Awards) too!

Awfulknitter | 14 June, 2009 - 11:30

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

The pastry crust (lard I believe) was to die for.

maki | 14 June, 2009 - 12:04

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Oh, and in nearby Leicester you'll find Europe's largest covered market. Open everyday accept Sundays. I wish more local people would support it. http://www.leicestermarket.co.uk/

Djinn | 14 June, 2009 - 00:52

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Wow, I just found your awesome blog searching for bento ideas. I was at Borough Market the same day getting picnic fixings for a knitting event and the coincidence warranted a comment. I'm enjoying your blog, and am definitely getting a kick out of your posts. ^^*

Jessica | 15 June, 2009 - 00:24

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

I can vouch for the Pieminister pies. I'm lucky enough to be living in Bristol where they started from originally and are still made.

Shaney | 16 June, 2009 - 12:28

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

No wonder you referred to it as intellectually pleasing! It is my first time to ever see a market that made use of lines from Shakespeare for ad purposes. Does this mean I have to present a diploma or transcript of grades before I can buy some onions there?(Just kidding teehee)

Soma Jean Watson | 16 June, 2009 - 22:52

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Loved the garlic being the fifth element!

The Phil Guild Guide | 17 June, 2009 - 22:48

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

I think I may have to move to London immediately! Those pot pies look ridiculous! And delicious ;)

SassyChef | 19 June, 2009 - 15:24

Re: Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

This one is so beautifully done, I wouldn’t mind hanging it on my wall as art. I wonder if there are graphic design pros that create these display boards, or if the stall holders letter them themselves?

A looong time ago when I was still in the US, I was listening to NPR and found out that Whole Foods hired part time students to do the display boards. They paid them and the students got benefits (medical, vacation) as well. I thought it was really neat. I'm not sure if they do this in the UK or not though.

I've been in England nearly two years and I haven't been to this market. Then again I live far away (in English terms) from London!

There's an International Food Markets in Birmingham until Sunday. I went today and I think I'll be going *every day* until then.

MN | 24 June, 2009 - 17:56

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