If you thought London markets were all about battered fruit and pie ‘n’ mash shops, think again. These vibrant corners of creativity – bustling places where you can buy everything from vintage clothes and crafty keepsakes, to dishes from around the world and proper local produce – are enjoying a resurgence.
Selection of raw mushrooms for sale credit: iStock
For London locals, they are one-stop shops for high-quality produce rarely found on supermarket shelves. For tourists, markets offer an insight into the rich cultures which make up the capital.
Borough Market has occupied its London Bridge site for 250 years – making it the capital’s oldest fruit and veg market. However, new collections of stalls are now springing up with an international feel, including Brindisa, a Spanish food importers, Cool Chile Co, authentic Mexican spices, Ethiopian Flavours, dishes from Ethiopia, Horn OK Please, Indian vegetarian food and the Turkish Deli – does what it says on the tin!
The community market, open every Saturday, combines street food and artisan produce in the iconic setting of the Grade II-listed St John at Hackney churchyard.
Journalist Ben Norum, its co-founder, said he was keen to set up something that wasn’t “identikit” to other markets in the capital. “London is a city built on markets, with the Cockney barrow-boy having become a national icon,” the 28-year-old said.
“It’s also an important opportunity for small businesses.
“Getting the right mix of stalls is tricky. It wouldn’t be hard to fill the space with traders, but there would be a lot of overlap of products, and no stalls would do well,” he explains.
Up to 25 traders turn out on a weekly basis, offering delights such as fresh breads, cheeses, cakes and meats, as well as Mexican, Indian, Spanish, South American and Italian dishes.
Pastries at Borough Market credit: iStock
“It’s a unique mix,” Norum adds. “It’s in a beautiful churchyard setting, with tables to sit and eat at, grass to picnic on – we’ve created a place to stay rather than just to shop and go.”
No doubt Norum would want his market to still be thriving in 2262 – just like Borough Market is today.
Based near London Bridge, the trendy collection of stalls has earned a reputation of being the place to go for fresh, top-quality food.
Marketgoers can now take three-hour tours around the stalls with food writer Celia Brooks. On the Gastrotour (£75pp), they’ll enjoy wine tasting, as well as learn about how artisan foods – rare-breed meats, fine cheeses, Turkish treats and seasonings – are produced.
So, what’s the secret behind the market’s success? How has it continued to thrive for hundreds of years?
David Matchett, development manager, says: “It’s the diversity of the offering is what makes us stand out.
“You can get biltong that’s been made in the UK to South African standards, and Australian products such as wattle seed and lemon myrtle are also available.
“In the world of change it’s our tradition that makes us different.”
Either that, or Borough Market offers something that has mass appeal – decent food. “Our traders go the extra mile,” Matchett says. “Usually in a van with a fish straight from the sea or veg straight from the farm.”