Lon­don street food heads the queue

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - John Lee

IT’S Satur­day morn­ing at south Lon­don’s clam­orous Bor­ough Mar­ket and, de­spite a mild hang­over, I’ve scoffed sev­eral fin­ger­lick­ing sam­ples of smoked gruyere, chunky olive bread and hot sliv­ers of spicy boar sausage.

For­get­ting the pre­vi­ous night’s beery ex­cesses — thanks to Lon­don Pride ale — I’m hit­ting the streets for some restora­tive fresh air and a lit­tle early al­fresco din­ing.

Once a waste­land of limp ba­con butties and scald­ing dish­wa­ter tea, many Lon­don mar­kets have un­der­gone a culi­nary re­nais­sance in re­cent years, be­com­ing wan­der­ing smor­gas­bords of gourmet bak­ing, rus­tic com­fort foods and a UN of in­ter­na­tional cui­sine. Best of all, in a city fa­mous for over­priced nosh­ing, they typ­i­cally of­fer some of the best value meals around.

Back at Bor­ough, nes­tled among the labyrinthine streets near Lon­don Bridge sta­tion, my senses are con­tin­u­ally as­sailed by what’s on of­fer. With a weak­ness for strong cheese, I’m lured by the earthy aroma of fresh-cut stil­ton, piled like ed­i­ble pyra­mids at sev­eral stalls. But there are less familiar cheese treats too, in­clud­ing creamy capri­ola, sharp Lin­colnshire poacher and ubriaco, a crumbly Ital­ian cre­ation ma­tured in red wine.

With other stalls hawk­ing hearty, fresh-baked breads — fo­cac­cia with onion catches my eye, and rye with rose­mary — and one walk-in stall with a se­lec­tion of Euro­pean wines, this is the ideal mar­ket to col­lect the mak­ings of a great pic­nic: hop on the tube and, within min­utes, you can be spread­ing lunch on the grass in a Lon­don park.

While Bor­ough is all about food, many mar­kets pro­vide side dishes of ad­di­tional shop­ping plea­sures. Colonis­ing a glass-roofed Vic­to­rian mar­ket hall, east Lon­don’s Old Spi­tal­fields — which I visit the fol­low­ing day— of­fers ev­ery­thing from ironic T-shirts to Banksyin­spired ur­ban-art lith­o­graphs. At­tract­ing an artsy, trend-set­ting crowd, it’s a colour­ful spot to spend an hour or two. Re­flect­ing its pro­fes­sional-bo­hemian clien­tele, Old Spi­tal­fields drips with the kind of pricey-look­ing ar­ti­sanal grub that’s of­ten avail­able in high-end delis at three times the price.

One stall is stud­ded with shuck­ready Ir­ish rock oys­ters, an­other is topped with a just-made mound of cured meat sand­wiches, while an­other is lined with aro­matic mini­bar­rels of shiny-skinned olives. There are sev­eral veg­e­tar­ian op­tions that are tempt­ing enough to sway even diehard car­ni­vores. One stall dis­plays a rain­bow-coloured ar­ray of or­ganic fruit and veg­etable sal­ads with names such as Trop­i­cal Coleslaw and Caribbean Sun­rise. Tempted to em­brace my in­ner veg­e­tar­ian, I opt for a mouth-melt­ing two-spinach-and-ri­cotta pas­try from a nearby ven­dor.

By­pass­ing a wall of bot­tled beers — de­spite the in­trigu­ing Bel­gian Trap­pist monk brews on of­fer, it’s a lit­tle early for that — I am­ble deeper into the mar­ket for an es­presso and a sweet snack. Ex­pect­ing to nib­ble on some or­ganic ba­nana bread or a chunky homemade cookie, I’m in­stead lured by a dou­ble stand of gi­ant, cream-packed cakes and fil­i­gree pas­tries.

Reg­u­lar cus­tomers cir­cle like pi­ra­nhas, pick­ing off their favourite calorific treats, but I make sev­eral guilty passes be­fore my willpower com­pletely crum­bles. Suc­cumb­ing to the in­evitable, I’m soon sink­ing my teeth into a soft, brick-sized slab of Bel­gian choco­late fudge cake. That should cover all the day’s nec­es­sary food groups.

Wad­dling to­wards the Un­der­ground sta­tion, I squeeze on to a train and trun­dle to north Lon­don’s largest and most pop­u­lar street mar­ket. Ac­tu­ally a string of in­ter­linked mar­kets lin­ing the High Street, Cam­den is a must-see. Packed with dis­pos­able fash­ions and artist-de­signed knick-knacks, its hun­dreds of stalls of­fer an em­i­nently browse-wor­thy way to spend the af­ter­noon. Along­side the shop­ping, though, there’s some great bud­get din­ing. En­ter­ing Cam­den Lock Mar­ket (which was un­touched by a re­cent fire), just un­der the blue-painted rail­way bridge, I push through the swelling crowds and soon find a cov­ered hawk­ers’ row of steam­ing eth­nic take­aways, of­fer­ing bub­bling caul­drons of In­dian, Chi­nese and Thai cur­ries.

Ini­tially blinded by the choice, I settle im­pul­sively for a heap­ing plat­ter of black-bean chicken, chill­ifried rice and a crunchy ba­nana frit­ter. Af­ter this stom­ach-fill­ing meal, I weave around the rest of the stalls be­fore stum­bling on an un­ex­pected clutch of home­style food stands serv­ing African goat curry and Ja­maican jerk chicken. Tempted to nosh to a glassy-eyed stand­still, I ul­ti­mately ac­cept the sad fact I’m stuffed to the gills. Of course, I could al­ways come back next week, if I avoid eat­ing un­til then. www.bor­ough­mar­ket.org.uk www.old­spi­tal­field­s­mar­ket.com www.cam­den­lock­mar­ket.com

Nice spice: Cam­den Lock Mar­ket

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