Borough Market is a funny place to head to as a Londoner. The area is not one where you would imagine anyone to be truly “local” – perhaps a banker who has an expensive flat they occupy only during the week, or a wealthy family that have properties all across the globe. But of course, as with any London area, there are true yocals about. On the surface, the immediate surroundings here consist of commuters, changing from rail to tube or tube to rail, students on their way to King’s College, or people visiting those in the hospital. You also have those working in one of the many offices towering over the busy streets, or tourists, queuing for the Shard, wandering along the Thames, and visiting Borough Market. If you’re not here as (or with) tourists, then you’ve come because you’re looking for a very specific food stuff, and you know this is the place you’ll find it.
With the train thundering directly overhead, and surrounded by waves of people, this isn’t the kind of place you come for a meander. You're here to marvel at all the things the many stalls have to offer – you may never again see as many different types of apples in one place, or will forever more question why you thought that there was only one type of garlic any home cook might need. Or perhaps you've come for a very specific stall, making a beeline for the Norwegian whey cheese, or the artisan honeycomb doughnuts. Not in season? Not to worry. There are piles upon piles of fresh produce, of all variations. Of course, they’re not cheap, but you wouldn’t expect it to be. Whether it’s nutmeg syrup from Grenada or liquorice from Denmark, you stumble across things in the tiny stalls that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in London, or at least not all in one spot. Selfridges Food Hall has nothing on SE1.
London Bridge has been known for its food stalls since the 11th century; Borough Market itself came into existence in the 13th century, making it London’s oldest fruit and veg market. Owned by a charitable trust, it’s the only fully independent market in London. And it is never not busy. If you needed a sampling of the types of tourists London attracts, this is where you should come. The majority of people making their way up and down the narrow alleys have the newest, best camera gear dangling from their necks. Those who don’t are eagerly snapping away at their phones; no other market is quite as Instagrammable as this one (not only because it has a roof, meaning you can snap away, rain or shine).
If you look closely, you can spot the locals, who have come for their weekly shopping, prodding veg, sniffing fruit, bartering with the traders, whose names they all know. People in their workout gear are swooping in and out, post-gym, and others are making their way through the stalls with a Waitrose bag in one hand, a Sainsbury’s tote slung over their shoulder, buying the last bits and bobs they need to compete their shopping.
People make a day out of coming here. Like a weekly treat. And, as opposed to other markets, the majority of people are here to eat, not just to buy food. You’ll spot a coffee place with a gigantic queue coming out of it, going down the road and then around a corner. People are drinking champagne and eating oysters; in fact, you’ll spot people drinking at one stall or another, no matter the time of day. And it’s easy to understand why – this doesn’t feel like a market, it feels like a destination, an in-the-know place to eat and drink, with all the stalls branded with the same Borough Market font – even the bins have the same writing on them.
People have dressed up to come here – you’ll spot young parents with a toddler who has a bow in her hair, the mum wearing beautiful high heels, the dad a dapper hat, sharing a plate of scallops and people-watching over glasses of prosecco (a smoothie for the baby). And if you’re not necessarily looking for the very cheapest deal you can get in London, but want to cook something special, or just want to fill your belly by sampling items from some of the 100 stalls, go for it. There are few better ways to spend a leisurely, deliciously indulgent morning.
Borough Market, 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL