I had been wanting to visit Borough Market for the longest time and never actually made it until last Saturday. For the past five years now I have been lamenting the lack of proper markets in London, wishing I lived somewhere in France and missing the Naschmarkt where I would shop invariably every Saturday when I was still living in Vienna. I grew up with markets being the main source for food rather than the supermarket, and I always say that you can usually judge the culinary delights of a country by looking at its markets. People who love food and pay it a lot of respect will also have great markets. I love the hustle and bustle of them and keep dreaming of stalls overflowing with the ripest of fruit, displaying the most exotic of vegetables, heaps of freshly caught fish and seafood, the smell of glorious artisanal breads and butcher's tables offering meat from local cows which have been stroked to death, rather than simply slaughtered.
Here in London I innocently tried to keep up my habit of doing a proper tour of the local market every weekend - I have tried just about every farmers' market in the area and I think they're a joke - I know we should support them and everything, but with the produce on display at the ones I visited that's not going to happen. Not until there is more variety, better value and higher quality in the products sold. A few weeks ago, for example, I paid more than £10 for two kohlrabi and two punnets of squished blackcurrants - in hindsight, I should have put it back, but I guess I felt embarrassed. I won't go into details, but the stalls were an embarrassment and certainly did not attract the crowds either. Not just me being picky there, it seems! The end result is that I am not going back, not just not to the Richmond one, but I am unlikely to visit any such institution in a while.
The Borough Market, though, is a whole different ballgame. Oh, had I only known that before! We were braising ourselves for another disappointment, but boy, what a fantastic place to do your shopping! Not only do you get local farmers (local being a bit of a loose term, spanning the South of England, I guess) selling organic fruits and vegetables, I found really interesting stalls with traditional British produce - cheeses, cider, honeys, fudge, sausages of all shapes and colours... alongside fare from all over the world, shops specialising in gorgeous cakes, wine, olive oil & vinegars, olives, ostrich, garlic (!!!), Spanish food, Mexican food, German sausages, Italian delicatessen - you name it, they've got it!
We started our tour at the Monmouth Cafe which recently played host to a SlowFood event on chocolate (& coffee) production. Ended up buying more than a kilogramme of coffee and just had a first taste of one of the varieties we chose - not bad, but not exactly the best match for us. Monmouth seem to specialise in filter coffee, not blends for espresso machines... but the day we bought our Jura I threw out all the equipment for the old fashioned filter coffee. They use traditional porcelaine filter holders and I think I saw a karlsbader (same principle, but no need for filter paper) as well. Lots of people there, and a happy crowd - it reminded me of Jones the Grocer in Sydney, with a communal table, fantastic bread (from Paul and Villandry) laid out as half-sticks in a basket on the table, danish pastries, quiches, cheeses, etc for you to pick and choose and have with some coffee, enjoying the company of fellow shoppers.
This gave us the strength to continue strolling through the vast variety of stalls in the market (which is mostly covered, so can also be enjoyed on a day with less benign climate) and sampling the produce on offer. I had a few absolute high moments when I found things I had been searching for high and low, like fresh (maize) tortillas and fresh poblano chiles (available from cool chile co), ostrich, gorgeous pata negra ham (cut by hand to extremely thin slices), fresh foie gras, white asparagus, pimientos de padrón... and I bet in a few weeks' time I will even find my beloved fresh cep mushrooms and maybe, just maybe, some fresh truffles as well!
Now I just want to come back every Saturday, start with a nice breakfast at one of the many cafes and restaurants (de gustibus with their gorgeous bread being next on my list) and then decide on what to cook over the weekend by simply grazing through the amazing offering and letting my appetite guide me. We made our way home with a kilo of coffee, one litre of oil and another one of vinegar, a pack of fresh pimientos from Brindisa, two ostrich fillets, a dozen free-range eggs and two pots of organic babyfood (pots for tots) - and if I only had more than my husband's two hands to carry my bags around, I needn't have made such an effort to restrict myself. In moments like this I get a notion that polygamy can have its advantages...