Okay, I’m not gonna lie. This post might get a little bit touristy on your arses. I finally made it to Borough Market one recent Saturday morning, to shop for beautiful fresh produce and specialty food products, and also to ogle the scene just a tad and inconspicuously take a few photos. Sometimes when I walk around town with my Nikon DSLR strapped around my neck, I feel like a semi-legit photographer-type, all arty and vision-y and what have you. Those are the kinds of days when maybe I’ll stop to snap a close-up of a rusty iron gate with an English rose peering through or a beautiful wall of ivy with a shallow depth of field. But on a Saturday morning at Borough Market, wearing a camera around your neck does not read as vision-y. It reads as touristy, and touristy only — even if you’re using your valid work visa to bounce your flash.
I did it anyway. I figure I’ve got the first year of living in London to be as shameless a tourist as I like. From year two onward, it’ll be all business and decorum in London. (And I’ll take my blatant tourism elsewhere, thank you very much.) And, to be honest, I didn’t just take a lot of pictures. I also hemorrhaged enough cash that I had to take a halftime break to find an ATM. So I guess everybody won.
Borough Market is a seriously large and seriously old food market right under the London Bridge. Seriously large, like more than 130 vendors. And seriously old, like — ready for this? — operating in some capacity since 1014 A.D., if not earlier. Not too shabby, right? These days, the market, which is open Thursdays through Saturdays, gets a lot of out-of-town visitors. But thankfully it also gets its share of serious shoppers (such as myself, ahem). Serious shoppers go there for good reason — or, more aptly, for many good reasons. A wide variety of carefully sourced fruits and vegetables, for starters. Look at all these varieties of tomato. I haven’t seen so many heirlooms since I stopped hosting our CSA.
Those tiny tomatoes in the clamshells at the front of this table at the Turnips stall were just a skosh bigger than peas. They were outrageously expensive, but I bought some anyway just to up my tourism credentials. Turnips is one of the few remaining wholesalers at Borough Market. For the likes of tourists like me, they also operate a large retail stall with a nice variety of fruits and veg, mostly local, including some beautiful mushrooms that I used in the recipe at the end of the post. The best part of the whole day may have been discovering that chanterelles are not painfully expensive here. That’s definitely a first in my lifetime.
Beyond fresh produce, Borough Market is a wonderland of meats, cheeses, spices, breads, and a huge variety of artisanal food products. No matter what your style of eating, you’ll find something that suits. Nose-to-tail types might like some fresh ostrich meat or a whole wild rabbit.
Vegans might prefer a few falafel from The Honest Carrot, where I got my walking lunch. (I went with falafel so I could be sure I’d be the only one walking. Those rabbits were awfully lifelike.)
Don’t even get me started on the olives and semi-dried tomatoes at The Fresh Olive Company, the spices at Spice Mountain, and Cool Chile Co (finally, Mexican ingredients in London!), the foie gras, goose fat (the best for roast potatoes!) and prepared French foods at Le Marché du Quartier, or the dozens of other international food vendors studded throughout the market like so many raisins in a perfect, chewy loaf of artisan bread. Did somebody mention a perfect, chewy loaf of artisan bread?
There’s even a handful of artisans — like the guys from Pâté Moi — who have achieved well-deserved cult-like status. You haven’t really experienced a secret family recipe for mushroom pâté until you’ve been sampled up and chatted up by the guys from Pâté Moi. And, secret or no, everyone in London seems to know it.
One of the best things about Borough Market is that every vendor has a great story. The mushroom guys are just a little extra good at telling theirs.
There are even a few items for sale that you can’t eat, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And if you think you’d also be into a less-touristy take on Borough Market, you might want to check out this post over at the BBC Food blog. It’s very interesting, and quite a counterpoint to this little ditty. In the meantime, though, how about some brown rice and mushrooms?
Talk to you soon.
P.S. This is the second installment of my new, occasional series That’s Bloody Brilliant, discussing all things British and edible. Read the first post here.
Mixed Mushrooms and Spinach in Brown Rice
This recipe makes a satisfying plant-based main dish with a big green salad alongside. If you're starting to think ahead to Thanksgiving, it would also make an excellent side dish or vegetarian main for turkey day.
- 1 cup (uncooked) brown basmati rice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, minced
- 6 cups mixed fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used chanterelles, chestnuts, shiitakes, and oysters)
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 ounces baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/4 cup chopped chives
Place the rice in a medium pot with two scant cups cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until water is absorbed, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, still stirring occasionally, until they have reduced in volume by about half and reabsorbed any water they've given off during cooking, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, one minute more. Add the spinach to the pan and cook, stirring, until just wilted.
When the rice and the mushroom mixture are both cooked, scrape the mushroom mixture into the pot with the rice. Add the soy sauce and chives and stir together gently but thoroughly. Serve warm or at room temperature.