Good markets are getting harder and harder to find. The traditional markets with cheap clothes, dish cloths and ‘3 for a pound’ fruit and veg are even rarer. The traditional markets were good for a bargain, but not so great for a day out. These days when you do find a market it’s far more likely to be of the artisanal type and to be expensive, but lovely for a day out.
Borough Market is one such market. It’s been around for a long time, about 1000 years (no, my finger didn’t linger too long on the key and add an extra zero, I really did mean to type 1000).
It stands in Southwark on the south side of the river close to London Bridge. This was the first bridge built across the Thames since the Romans left and was constructed sometime before the year 1000.
I started reading up on the history of the market on the market website and found myself tantalised by a tale of Vikings and how invading Vikings were fighting Vikings hired by the home side as mercenaries. The invading Vikings tied cables to London Bridge and pulled it down. Or so they claimed. I did wonder if this was the origins of the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, but it doesn’t seem to be.
What has all this got to do with Borough Market? Well, Snorri Sturluson (he was something big in medieval Scandinavian literature) wrote the about the battle of London Bridge in a collection of sagas called the Heimskringla. In it he mentions the great market town of Southwark. The bloke who won the battle went by the name of Sweyn Forkbeard. He became King, but died a few weeks later in February 1014.
Although the market must have had been around for a while before this, particularly if it had been there long enough to have formed a ‘great’ market town, this is the earliest known mention of it. Therefore this is the date usually used when working out how old the market is and was the date used when millennial celebrations were held for the market in 2014.
By the 19th century, the market had become a wholesale fruit and vegetable market which thrived until the 1970s when the New Covent Garden Market in Vauxhall took a lot of its trade. This, coupled with the rise of supermarkets, seemed to mean the end was nigh for Borough Market.
However, in the 1990s, as ‘artisanal’ foods started to become a thing, the market’s managers saw an opportunity for revival and soon an occasional food fair became a regular market open several days a month. This turned into a daily market and today, more than a 1000 years on, it’s a thriving destination marketplace selling all kinds of wonderful food and drink.
We spent all morning wandering and sampling. The only thing that stopped us remortgaging our houses and buying everything in sight is that whatever we bought we had to carry round with us for the rest of the day and take with us to the Ritz when we went for our posh afternoon tea.
This vegetarian mushroom pate was delicious. We tried a few samples, but it wasn’t recommended that we keep it in our bags all day and our warm room overnight, so we couldn’t buy any to take home.
There was plenty of cheese to sample too.
I just wanted to grasp that top wedge with my two hands and gnaw on it.
For the carnivorous amongst you there was plenty of meat too.
And bread. In case you felt like making your own sandwiches.
There were plenty of counters serving hot food like these curries sizzling away in balti pans.
If you wanted to do a bit of cooking at home there were spices and oils.
And of course, it wouldn’t be an artisan food market without cakes.
Oh the cakes …
Really, the CAKES!
And I didn’t try one.
Only because I knew I’d be eating plenty of cake later on as part of my afternoon tea.
I didn’t have a giant meringue either.
Or a gingerbread man.
I so have to go back to this market on a day when I’m not saving myself.
We did buy some licorice though so we’d have something to snack on on the train on the way home.
I mean, how could we not when there was so much choice and licorice from so many licorice loving countries?
You see that huge doorstopper hunk of licorice at the back? The girl on the stall told us that although it’s real it’s just for show, but is worth about £500. On her first week in the job she dropped it and it broke. Fortunately she was forgiven and kept her job.
And if you want your licorice in pure unadulterated from you could buy a bunch of licorice sticks.
If licorice isn’t your thing, maybe you’d prefer some dried fruit and chocolate covered nuts instead?
Or some multi-flavoured Turkish delight?
And if all that munching makes you thirsty, well you could always have a cup of tea.
Or some iced tea
Or some chocolate wine
Does this work? Chocolate and wine in the one drink? I like both, but together? They didn’t have samples so I didn’t get to try it.
What we did drink however, seeing as how we were being posh ladies for the weekend, was …
… pink prosecco.
My first ever job was working on a market and so I KNOW that markets never used to sell pink prosecco. What on earth were we thinking assuming that everyone would be happy with a mug of stewed tea or a can of Coke? We really missed a trick there.
Apart from the pink prosecco and the licorice, my other favourite thing was goat ice cream.
I didn’t fancy this at all as I think goats’ milk and cheese has a much stronger taste than cows’ milk and although I like it I didn’t think it would work in ice cream.
We sampled the strawberry and balsamic flavour and immediately bought a tub each.
It worked. It didn’t taste like goat at all.
We found this botanical garden style atrium at the back of the market and sat here for a while enjoying our goat ice cream.
The market sells flowers as well as food and drink, but even the flowers looked artisanal.
I SO want to go back to this market and try more of its deliciousness. I’m sure I could quite easily spend a whole day there.
What about you? Would you like to spend a day at Borough Market? Or do you know of an even better market? Share your thoughts in the comments below.