The weekend before Valentine's Day, when I was in London, Ed and Betty took me to Borough Market, a huge open-air collection of food stalls south of the River Thames and London Bridge.
The market goes back to at least 1276. Its staggering size, about 85 stalls depending on the season, reminded me of La Boqueria in Barcelona. Unlike Boqueria, though, Borough features a lot of fine food retailers – like the ones you see at Madrid’s Mercado de San Migel. But there’s no analogy for the heavily sauced sausages, hot pies and stewed meats. If you're looking for the full monty of Brit cuisine, Borough's the place.
On a Saturday afternoon, the market is packed, despite its expansive territory. Sometimes you're shoulder-to-shoulder with the other shoppers. Not a new problem: in 1754, the market was causing so much traffic congestion that Parliament temporarily shut it down.
The market’s popularity these days makes it hard to imagine another closing. I can’t report any celeb sightings, but Borough is supposedly one of the best spots for ogling your Jude Laws and Keira Knightleys.
I have a hard time picturing Keira diving into Borough’s extravagance. The smoked meatball sandwiches, pork roast, asparagus soup, jamon (okay, that one isn’t so authentic), blood pudding, mashers and fresh cheese were all of highest quality and caloric content. The highlights of the afternoon, though, were the hot pies, vegan roasts, wild rock oysters and reindeer burger - even though my request for the red-nosed variety was rejected by a humorless Brit.
We got the hot pies (and blood pudding) from the stall run by Sillfield Farm, which is located four hours away in Cumbria (northwest England). The producer, Peter Gott, keeps no less than 150 rare breeds of pig.
Guess what they sold like
Not to be outdone were the oysters at the Haward stall. The Haward family has been harvesting the waters of Essex since 1792, and their go-to items are the same now as they were then: Colchester native and wild rock. I enjoyed both, although I'm not sure I agree with the Romans, who, according to the Haward website, declared 2000 years ago that wild rock oysters were the only good things to come out of Britannia.
I wanted all of these
The vegetarian roasts, sold at the London Roast stand, are stuffed with beetroot, potato, carrot, apple and corn flakes, and seasoned with fenugreek, cardamom, cumin and sea salt. Even better than their earthy taste is the shape of London Roast’s muffins, which are baked in clay plant pots.
We tracked down the reindeer burgers at the Ostrich and Exotic Meats counter. Reindeer is the same type of deer called caribou in North America. Prancer was tender and juicy. More than 70 percent of reindeer that are slaughtered for meat are calves, which tend to have fatty, soft flesh.
Me, stunned at my good fortune in finding an exotic meats stand
A humorless Brit