Nestled beneath the railway in South East London is the heart of British food culture: Borough Market. Around 70 stalls sprawl among its intricate setting with the offer of fresh, quality produce. The unique atmosphere is imbued with colourful sights, enticing smells and delicious flavours amidst a mild hubbub. Local MP, Simon Hughes described its ‘wonderful Dickensian feel.’
Home to many people filled with passion for food and drinks, Borough Market has become a warehouse of culinary knowledge. With pre-12th Century trading origins, its revival in the 1990s has given it lots to offer from basic groceries to giant meringues and wheat grass shots, the ultimate superfood. It is a place of exploration and discovery.
This status has made Borough Market the fashionable place to buy food. Gordon Ramsay, Theo Randall and Jamie Oliver have been spotted there. Any ‘foodies’ will have seen Nigella visiting the Taste of Spain stall for her baby chorizo. Meanwhile, its popularity has been bolstered as the filming location for Market Kitchen and films such as Bridget Jones’s Diary and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Its eminence gained formal recognition from the London Lifestyle Awards. On the 7th October 2010 Julian Bennett honoured it as London Food Market of the Year for its contribution to the city’s distinctive atmosphere. Alongside its fantastic produce, the market makes a great outing.
A Supermarket Alternative
It is easy for students to opt for cheaper, mass produced food but markets generally provide fresher, healthier, tastier alternatives that are undoubtedly better for you and often better value for money.
The cost of a visit depends on your resolve to take advantage of the range of free tasters. However, for those after a more substantial portion and willing to say goodbye to a few pennies there is lots of prepared food available. My personal recommendation has to be the ‘Heidi Pie’ from Pieminster. Crammed with goat’s cheese, sweet potato, spinach, red onion and roasted garlic, it is no surprise this mouth-watering vegetarian meal was named ‘Champion Pie’ at the 2009 British Pie Awards. For a sweet tooth: the pastries from Sweet Boulangerie & Patisserie are divine.
Healthy eating can sometimes seem at odds with a student budget. Produce from the market may indeed cost a little more but it is undoubtedly worth it. Plus, some thrifty bargain hunting never goes amiss. Later visits are always serenaded by stallholders bartering away hunks of meat and slashing the price of fresh goods.
Buying seasonal produce is vital for the best deals. In a country that has grown accustomed to a year-round diet of produce flown in from abroad, the fluctuating prices in supermarkets can catch you unaware. Paul Crane runs a colourful fruit and vegetable stall at Borough Market. He advised sticking to home grown produce for the best prices. Having travelled fewer miles such products are cheaper, fresher and tastier.
Spring crops include: asparagus, mushrooms, chicory, cabbage, rhubarb, spinach, any spring greens, purple-sprouting broccoli, carrots, new potatoes, cauliflower, and radishes. Such products, when in season, are significantly reduced in price in supermarkets too.
Knowing the cheaper yet flavoursome cuts of meat can similarly ease the strain on your student loan without compromising on meals. Borough Market may be more expensive than buying cheap, vacuum packed, processed meat; nevertheless, the better nutritional value, taste and satisfaction outweigh any potential price difference. For those who have made the unfortunate mistake of investing in Iceland’s shrinking bacon, I’m sure you can sympathise. The Ginger Pig butchers is a great place for buying cheap cuts which are as well prepared as those which are more expensive.
For value a butcher recommended more unfamiliar cuts: oxtail, feather steak, beef skirt, pork hock, pig’s trotters, mutton, beef brisket, pig cheek and liver to name a few. As cheaper cuts often come from tougher, more muscular areas they cook best slowly in stews and casseroles to soften them up. Why not ultra-economise and boil the bones for a tasty stock or gravy?
If you ask, some stallholders will give advice on cooking their produce without breaking the bank. The frosty winter will have enhanced vegetables’ sweetness making them perfect for mashing, roasting or making a soup. Meanwhile, mustard and cabbage are from the same plant family. Therefore, adding a spoonful of mustard in a cheesy bacon sauce transforms cabbage into a flavoursome treat. More specifically, the mushroom pâté (a secret family recipe, of course) from Pâté Moi is delectable. It spreads simply on toast or a bacon sandwich and works well stuffed inside chicken breasts, or as a flavoursome sauce for pasta or rice.
On all accounts, Borough Market is an unbeatable alternative to trawling the dazzling supermarket aisles. As Peter Wilkinson, Chairman of Borough Market said, ‘The Market reflects its origins as a vibrant hub in the community where affordable quality food was made available to London’s people whilst embracing a bright future at the very heart of a City that never stands still.’