It was late morning and I was famished. My hunger driving me forward, I waded into a sea of humanity at London’s Borough Market, home to more than 100 food purveyors, stalls and shops. Wizened old ladies pulling wheelie baskets, beefy men talking sausage with butchers in bloody aprons, housemaids shopping for wealthy lords and ladies, and couples on holiday eager to take in the sights and free samples all jostled around me.
The market had its start in 1014, attracting traders selling grain, fish, vegetables and livestock. In 1755, the market was closed by Parliament, but residents raised £6,000 to buy a patch of land and reopened the market, where it continues to this day, commemorated with a plaque marking it as ‘London’s Oldest Fruit & Veg Market’.
Early summer seasonality from all of Great Britain and beyond is on full display; vivid red strawberries and delicate doughnut peaches competed for my attention. Peppers in a dizzying array of colors were packed next to royal purple eggplants and towers of basil, begging to be made into caponata.
Wild hares dangled from meat hooks, their fur coats still clinging. Small deer and whole pigs, eviscerated and hung in the open air, waited with the patience of the dead to be made into terrines and sausages. Enormous round trays of paella were mixed and served with huge wooden spoons the size of a small British schoolboy.
I bought mushroom pâté from a stockbroker-turned-food-entrepreneur, and honey packed with white truffle pieces from a snotty French couple. A hunky Sicilian tempted me with his spicy sausage but I opted instead for a large shot of emerald green wheatgrass, desperate to compensate for the prior evening’s feast of fiery Thai food washed down with copious amounts of cheap, overly-chilled Chablis. I sniffed from a glass jar containing whole black truffles and chatted up a hot, fourth generation cheese-maker from Bath about his family’s blue veined cheeses. The fishmonger made me giggle by stuffing crayfish, claws and all, into the large, ugly maw of a monkfish.
Indian ladies in bright saris hawked their piquant chutneys as baker’s by the dozen stood behind tables piled with cakes and cookies and breads, some no smaller than a soccer ball. Artisan ciders from the north of England were on offer alongside dozens of mustards and vinegars from southern France.
I roamed and ate and stuffed my little basket with delectables for a later picnic on the train; four hours to whisk me to England’s Lake District to hike away the pounds of cheese and charcouterie, so I may be able to feast again.
London is not so much a European city as an international one, made eminently clear to me walking through the hallowed walkways of Borough Market. Arabs and Indians and Chinese and Persians mingle seamlessly with Europeans and Japanese and Africans and South Americans, as well as this constantly hungry American, united by love for good food sold by those who gather it.