Borough Shopping Across the Pond

By Talene Shabanian

London is packed with an array of outdoor, or “proper,” markets – as the British would say. Not the let’s-play-like-a-small-town street fairs selling dream-catchers and hokey wooden plaques you find in the States. Among the collection is Borough Market in East London–a colorful labyrinth of tantalizing food stalls tucked under a glass and wrought iron structure.

On any given weekend you can treat yourself to the full Borough delight. Starting at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, head directly south over the Millennium Footbridge. You’ll be in full view of all London’s iconic architecture. With the Houses of Parliament and London Eye on your right and the Gherkin and London Bridge to your left, you will be channeled directly toward the Tate Modern. After the bridge sets you down on the footpath along the South Bank, follow the road east toward the buzz of Borough Market.

Hidden behind the Southwark Cathedral, uniform yellow and red awnings beckon you along the curved aisles of Green Market, which annexes onto the greater Borough Market on Fridays and Saturdays. Greeted by a vision of old world charm, it is easy to wander through vendors selling everything from fresh sausage sandwiches, toasted cheese melts, big block brownies and orange stuffed olives.

Making your way through the stalls, you’ll be led quite naturally to the sprawling open-air structure that shelters the official Borough Market. Arching overhead between the two joined markets is a working railroad bridge. The rumble of the trains above cloak the buzzing layers of energy below.

The market is a friendly affair, but not overly intrusive. Pairs of shoppers check off the essentials and unexpected necessities of their now-expanding grocery lists, stopping off for the occasional Cornish ice cream or pint of homemade cider. This is a truly well bred market. It has a gracious vibe; strolls along the wide aisles while lingering over the provoking food displays are inevitable.

I’ve become a Borough regular. I approach the market quietly, not wanting to alert it that I’ve come again so tastelessly soon. Whatever the excuse, I’m soon rushing to queue for a sirloin steak sandwich.

The menu has a series of tantalizing options–boar, ostrich and Cumberland pork–all crossed off with the words “sold out.” With the exception of one remaining choice–steak sandwich.

Soft bread, fresh arugula, tender meat—now I understand the demand. I’m so enveloped in its deliciousness that I obstruct foot traffic, not having so much decency as to find a seat or proper nook before launching head bent into this dripping delight.

With appetite nearly satisfied, I do some manic food stalking. I walk past baklava, luscious truffles and brownie slabs, until I hit upon the perfect dessert—a flaky berry tart. I head for the produce section, solicited by an unusual, but predictable demand for figs on eyeing the numerous mounds. There are beautiful splays of mushrooms and squash, berries and oranges. It’s only thanks to the weight of my basket that I’m pressured to finish up.

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