One of my absolutely favourite places to go in London is Borough Market. Located in Southwark, near London Bridge, Borough Market is the oldest food market in the capital with a history dating back some 1,000 years. Back then, trade took place closer to the river and was a chaotic affair with livestock roaming the streets often blocking the road and preventing people from getting onto London Bridge and into the City (the bridge was the only route across the river for hundreds of years). What’s more the market traders in Southwark, then a town independent to London, started undercutting the City of London’s own traders leading the city to ban its residents from scooting across the bridge in search of a bargain – and a pint or two in one of the local pubs.
Borough Market’s riverside location closed in 1754 only to open again in a new location in 1756. It remained a wholesale hub until the 1970s when the New Covent Garden Market was built at Vauxhall. This new arrival had a huge impact on the market and, combined with the arrival of large supermarkets, put many independent greengrocers out of business.
Fortunately, however, the 1990s brought with it a new interest in artisan food and businesses including cheesemonger Neal’s Yard Dairy and Spanish importer Brindisa began setting up shop in Borough. Events were held to promote their wares and eventually a monthly market was established to showcase UK artisans. This quickly grew in popularity and soon became the six-day-a-week affair that it is today. These days Borough Market is foodie heaven and sees some 4.5 million visitors every year. It still operates as a wholesale market, opening at 2am to trade, and welcomes the public from 10am.
What to eat and drink at Borough Market
There are over 100 different stalls selling everything from oysters and sausage sandwiches to Thai street food and giant, steaming vats of paella. It’s a great place to come for fruit and veggies as well as freshly caught seafood, cheeses, breads and more. Borough Market is also a reliable option for hitherto hard-to-come-by ingredients or just to sample some of the local food stalls – it is all delicious. That said, I do have my favourites, so if you’re heading to Borough Market then these are the 11 best things to eat and drink.
Richard Hawards Oysters
There is always a long line outside Richard Hawards Oysters and for good reason, they are amazing. This family run business have been cultivating oysters in Mersea Island, Essex since the 1700s and offer both West Mersea rock oysters and Colchester native oysters. The oysters are shucked on the spot and so popular is this stall that they shuck some 12,000 oysters a week! Treat yourself and opt for a glass bubbly, too. You can also buy oysters to take home – but then you’ll need to shuck them yourself, something that I’ve no idea how to do.
Furness Food Hut
For cheap, cheerful and very filling food, try the Bomba Paella or the Chu Chi Chicken (a type of Thai curry) at the Furness Food Hut. Furness Food are based in Cumbria and sell their seasonal fish, game and poultry at Borough Market. Their stall, selling freshly delivered fish, sits next door to their food hut where enormous vats of delicious food sit simmering away. The paella comes with chicken, chorizo, mussels, squid rings, tiger prawns and more. Furness Food Hut also serve delicious mussels; choose from traditional moules marinières or mussels in a Chu Chi sauce.
Une Normande a Londres
The brilliantly named Une Normade a Londres has been selling all manner of French cheese in London for over 20 years. It’s not a food stall, rather a shop where you can stock up on hard cheese, soft cheese and stinky cheese as well as cheeses from cows, ewes, and goat’s milk. If cheese is not your thing then don’t worry, the shop also stocks a range of saucisson, pates, honeys and jams. It’s also just a really pretty shop!
Serving what I believe to be the best coffee in London (a bold claim, I know!) is Monmouth Coffee. The company has been roasting and selling coffee since 1978 and work closely with single farms, estates and cooperatives to not only find the best-tasting coffee beans but to ensure that the farmers receive a fair trade. The Borough Market branch is one of two shops that Monmouth Coffee have in London (the other one is in the original neighbourhood, Covent Garden). NB: A trip to this coffee shop is really how you should start your tour of Borough Market!
I rarely do my weekly shop at Borough Market as I’m too lazy to lug everything back up to North London. However, when I do need something different – like these amazing purple cauliflower that you see in this photo – then I head to Ted’s Veg. All their crops are grown chemical free and they have a wonderful range of seasonal fruit and veg on offer.
Located next to Richard Hawards Oysters is this amazing empanada stall, Porteña. If you’ve never had an empanada before then you are missing out; they are small pastries, fried or baked, stuffed with a range of fillings. Here, at this Argentine empanada stall, you can choose from beef, ham and cheese, chicken, spinach and ricotta and provolone. They also make what looks like an impressive steak sandwich, although I’m always too busy eating empanadas to try it!
Cinnamon Tree Bakery
A favourite with my kids is the Cinnamon Tree Bakery that specialises in handmade biscuits baked in London’s Camberwell. Using only the best ingredients (organic flour, free range eggs etc..) they produce the cutest shortbread owls, sticky heart-shaped jam tarts, happy gingerbread men and amazing cinnamon biscuits.
This is definitely one for meat-eaters only but if you do like a good sausage bap then Boston Sausage is the place to come. I have never attempted the Big Breakfast Burger so I can’t tell you what that’s like, but the sausages are fantastic. They also sell single sausages on a stick that are perfect for three-year-olds like Sam.
Spice Mountain is another shop that is well worth visiting – even if you haven’t heard of half the spices stocked on their shelves! Here you’ll find spices from the Middle East and Asia, baking spices such as cinnamon an acai orange peel (no, I had never heard of this before either!), paprikas, salts, all manner of chillies and much, much more. If you happen to own a cookbook with recipes asking for obscure ingredients, I can guarantee you’ll find it in Spice Mountain!
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