For the life of me, I can’t remember how I first heard about Borough Market. It very well could have on Valentine’s Day after we first arrived in London when Jeff and I toured around Tower Bridge and marveled at the fun architecture of central London. Just behind London Bridge station, tucked underneath the overground rail, and next to Southwark Cathedral, is this massive market and historic marvel. Instantly, this space became a favorite spot of mine for its legacy, variety, and insanity.
The full market is only open Thursday-Sunday, so when you go, everyone else goes, too. It makes for a claustrophobic and loud experience, but one that cannot be missed for anyone visiting London.
What I love about Borough Market is that when you enter, you’re met with countless aromas from the dozen of food stalls cooking anything and everything from gluten-free Indian street food, Ethiopian cuisine, and even duck burgers with duck fat fries. In this area named the Green Market, are also retail stalls selling local (and extraordinary) honey, fudge that is out of this world, gluten-free treats, juice smoothies, and even Turkish delights. My favorite delight is the Turkish coffee flavored Turkish delight. Yes, it’s a thing, and yes, it’s divine.
After you’ve fought through the hoards of people in the know and cross over Cathedral Street to the second part of the expansive market, you are faced with full-on produce stalls, cheese mongers, bakers, and gorgeous flowers. And that’s just to name a few. There are also shops catering to Spanish and African ingredients and exotic meats to take home and cook.
When there was a honeycomb shortage in London because of low output from the local bees, I found some hidden in the shelves from the West Country Farm Shop. The gentleman behind the counter said it was a tough year for honeycomb, but he had his last remaining stock that day. I grabbed a small box, and it’s been lovely to have in the home for a rustic flair to our weekend breakfasts.
I will never get over how old London is and how much is celebrates its history by basically leaving it alone to continue and prosper. To give an example, Borough Market is over 1,000 years old. Can you believe it? While the exact date is not written down, the best guess origin year is 1014, but it’s quite possible the market started even before that.
Because of its strategic position near London Bridge, the Thames, and the City of London, the market became a hub for merchants to sell their wares. In fact, the borough of Southwark ( suth-uck) was known as a primitive “market town.” But this town-away-from-town caused some problems with authorities and other merchants because in Southwark, they were able to undercut the inner city competition. Several laws were enacted in the 1270s forbidding people to buy “cattle, corn, or merchandise,” but by 1406, Henry IV declared Southwark an unofficial “extension” of London, and therefore, a viable place of business. But it was Edward VI who made Southwark officially and legally part of London.
In the 19th century, the market became a wholesale staple to Londoners. It continued to expand with London’s exponential population growth. It is estimated that in 1933 alone, 1,750,000 bushels of fruit and veg were sold to the residents south of the river. But Borough Market would face another decline in the 1970s when Covent Garden got a face lift and took many clients to the posh area in the “proper city.”
Artisan foods and trends brought the market back to its current renaissance, and today, you can find well over a hundred traders on any given day of the week (except Sundays). Mondays and Tuesdays, there is a limited market with a handful of stalls open, but Wednesday through Saturday, the underground scene is in full swing from 10a to about 5p.
Every time I’ve gone, it’s slam-packed full of people, but I always find something new and unique that I haven’t tried before whether it’s the fresh and massive pans full of paella, Prosecco by the glass at the artisan wine stall, or delicacies from Croatia.
Here are a few of my personal favorite stalls in Borough Market:
- Borough Nuts: nuts by the gram and delightful Turkish delights on display (including Turkish Coffee flavor!)
- Brindisa: Spanish food retailer with everything you could possibly want from the southern country including fresh padron peppers and jamon
- Ellie’s Dairy or Greedy Goat: for those who are lactose intolerant (like me), you can enjoy some wonderful goat’s milk ice cream on a warm day
- Jumi Cheese: I walked in asking for cheese to go with a bottle of wine I had, and I walked out with some exquisite Swiss cheeses and fig jam. Delicious.
- The Exotic Meat Company: Ever want to try kangaroo meat? How about crocodile? (Tastes like chicken.) A unique stall with some truly exotic and fresh finds. They will even explain how to prepare it at home.
- The Free From Bakehouse: I worked in the bakery for a whole week when we first moved here. Gluten-free treats for the stomach-challenged. All delicious.
- Taste Croatia: It’s all in the name. Delicacies and delights from Croatia from chocolates to lavender.
- The Gated Garden: Gorgeous flowers and an incredible variety. My remaining couple of pounds go here for a decorative flair to my groceries.
- Turnips: the biggest stall with crates and crates of fresh fruit, veg, grocery, and eggs
- Whirld: some of the most devilish and decadent fudge you can imagine
- Utobeer: exotic, local, and unique beers from all over the world in every variety
Even if you’re just traveling to London for a few days or staying long term, you must check this place out for amazing eats, atmosphere, and true London history. Get stuck in the tradition that is over 1000 years old.