When it comes to food, I always see myself as a bit of a nonconformist. I am willing to spend money on a few, high-quality items rather than lots of mediocre ones. I take great awareness of the sources of my food for better taste and more ethical production. And, I love organic and hate preservative, as you may have guessed. But I am by no means following a fad. The way I eat is a way of life reflecting my whole-hearted passion for good food. I thought this way of life was a unique one until last Friday when I had an eye-opening adventure that showed me I’m not as alone as I thought.
I had finally made it to Borough Market, London’s most famous, iconic, and extensive food and drink market. Every food guide I read recommended it, so a trip there was a matter of complete importance. Since the beginning of its existence in the 14th century as a place of trade for grains, meat, and produce, it has grown exponentially. Now, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, about 130 faithful traders reappear with their treasures.
Upon entering the market, the atmosphere shifts. Even on a rainy and chilly day, it brings about a sense of warmth. This not only comes the wafts of steam, carrying the spicy smells of freshly made curry or hot beef roast. It also comes from the smiles of the vendors’ faces, eager to help their customers, the array of colors from the mounds of fruits and vegetables and, most importantly, the everlasting sense of community and common purpose that resides there. It is very hard to describe the extensiveness of this market to anyone who has not been there. Any little farmer’s market in Virginia is literally trampled on by Borough and my memories of it only exist as stream of consciousness.
I look left to see enormous cases filled with every cut of meat from every animal possible. A large pig head is nestled in the middle, a proud look on his face from the honor of providing all these people with his organic and local interior. I know what shop is around the upcoming corner before I even see it. The scent of the artisanal cheeses permeates so wide a radius, I wonder how anyone could work in such pungent conditions. That is until I’m offered a sample and the melting goodness in my mouth wordlessly erases this question. The bigger stalls carry the fruits and vegetables on displays transformed into large rainbowed walls. A sea of green reveals itself as various lettuces, waving their crinkled leaves in delight. The rich autumnal colors of the carrots, chard, cauliflower, and peppers follow. The muddy brown display appears less enticing at first, until I discover the luxurious potatoes and beets hiding beneath and an array of berries glisten like precious jewels from the corner. I tear my eyes away to carry on, only to have them pulled forcefully in another direction. Off to the olive bars, carrying more varieties than I knew existed. To the confectioners, sampling their sumptuous fudges, nuts, chocolates and pastries. To the mounds of baked breads and vats of artisan granola. To the apothecary-like stalls featuring rows of jars containing every sauce, olive oil, vinegar, jam, preserve, and spice imaginable. And then, to the long lines of hungry people, waiting at the lunch stalls for the meal they’ve probably been thinking about all week. And always keeping an eye out for sight of Jamie Oliver…I heard he makes many appearances there.
And this doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of this market. It is such an overload for the senses that I could probably go back every weekend in my remaining time here and always find hundreds of new things. I couldn’t resist from doing my grocery shopping either, and filled up my market bag with all the local and fresh products of this great country. It took a firm tug on my arm and my heart to tear me from this market, but the thought of the raw meat in my bag was enough to make me head home for the refrigerator. I spent the next hour after my return happily washing and trimming vegetables and playing tetris with my refrigerator to make all my bounty fit inside.
Then, when I sat down with a delicious salad made from my purchases, I had the realization that my mindset about food really isn't so different from that of others. Every single person at that market was there for the same reason and that was so they could get the food that they know is good for them and to support this amazing group of vendors who selflessly share their products. Everyone there was willing to withstand the rain, the cold, and the crowds to be a part of this market and indulge in their passion for food, bask in the community atmosphere, fill up their stomachs, and stock up for the week ahead. To me, Borough Market is at the very heart of London food culture, and even possibly all of England’s food culture. It upholds the ideals of locality and sustainability and it brings thousands of people from all over to this one place every week. It represents all of what a food culture should be, because it provides all natural food direct from England and is sustained by people who care. I will, of course, return every chance I can to take advantage of that I can’t find back at home in the states.