Borough Market

She had some of the first rubarbhof the season.
I was supposed to go to Istanbul last week and was all primed to tour exotic spice and fish markets, haggle over a kilim at the Grand Bazaar, get all nostalgic while I ate my old favorites of sigara boregi and coban salad, take a cooking class at their local culinary institute.  Alas, my husband’s schedule was changed at the very last moment, my heart broke just a little bit, but then I had to find a new itinerary for my week.  Instead of the colourful sights and smells of a city that bridges two continents, I would rediscover some of the nooks and crannies of my own city.
Borough Market on the Thames’ South Bank seemed the perfect place to pick up my shattered plan and I hadn’t visited it in a year.  It’s nestled underneath the labyrinth of brick arches that hold up the railway lines rumbling above and there has been a market of some kind or another here since 1014!  I made lists of things I needed, wanted, hoped I could find and set off Friday morning to see what treasures I might unearth on a beautiful Spring-like day.
Stacks of prepared grilled cheeseswaiting for the grill.
You know how you’re not supposed to go to the grocery store hungry? The same applies here, so my first stop was Kappacasein Dairy’s stall.  They sell 200 grilled cheese sandwiches on market day – a very simple but delicious formula: Montgomery Cheddar, Poilane sourdough bread, and a mix of finely chopped onions, leeks, and garlic.    I had paid my £5 and was waiting and soaking in the sunshine when I heard,  “Oh, my God! I haven’t had a grilled cheese in like, forever!”  I sighed to myself and was reminded why I haven’t been to Borough Market in a year.  Approaching the grilled cheese stall was a gaggle of young American girls in quilted Burberry jackets, Hunter wellingtons, and Ray Ban aviator sunglasses.  They all had long legs, long straight hair, big white teeth.  I know I’m an American, but inevitably, if I ever hear one person’s voice above the din of the crowd here, it’s an American.  These girls were no exception.  I quickly took my sandwich and scurried the other way.
While munching on the delicious cheesiness, I roamed around the market stalls deciding what I might come back to later and what was looking particularly fresh and/or intriguing.  I love watching the girls who work here in their big chunky sweaters, scarves wrapped around their necks and lots of jewellery, with their flushed cheeks and unruly hair.  Then there are their male counterparts who are sporting moustaches, big-framed glasses and skinny jeans.  This new generation of country, farming, artisan foodies stand in stark contrast to what are the traditional farming types here.  The more established generation have accents that would give Henry Higgins pause, their hands look like they’re actually out in the fields 365 days a year and there’s a no nonsense attitude when you deal with them.  While the foodie farmers have come up with good marketing strategies including appealing packaging and products for the foodie who doesn’t have time to cook for themselves, the traditionalists still holler out their prices and products to passer-bys and offer samples of their wares on toothpicks.
Too quickly I finished my sandwich and too quickly the crowds were swarming into the market.  I heard lots of Spanish and Italian, lots of American accents, lots of Eastern European languages.  It started to bum me out and it also explains why the newly opened Jubilee section of the market, which I was hoping would have a huge variety of new fruit and veg stalls, is devoted almost entirely to pre-made food products like jams, candies, chutneys, spice mixtures.  It’s all portable and non-perishable for the many tourists jamming the aisles and stopping in large groups making it difficult for any real shopping to get done.
Neil's Yard Dairy.
I slipped into Neil’s Yard Dairy on Park Street and gleefully inhaled.  Cheese!  My sense of purpose returned and I started sampling and chatting with the girl behind the counter.  I settled on three: Brother Michael, a semi-soft rind washed cow’s cheese; Innes Log, an unpasteurized goat’s cheese from Staffordshire; Tunworth a camembert-style cow’s milk cheese from Hampshire.  With these three stinky gems in my bag, the entire tone of my day picked up.  I quickly found the blue eggs I was looking for, some beef short ribs to have in the freezer just in case, a handful of wild mushrooms, and some golden beets.
Pleased with myself and my purchases, I made my way back to the tube, and while it wasn’t Istanbul, there is something lovely about knowing this is just a short ride away from home and I can satisfy my food geek any time I like.  It’s not a farmers’ market for your weekly shop, but it’s a circus-like celebration of the bounty of the English countryside and the people who care for it, that reinvigorates me as I plan what to cook, yet again.