The quest for convenience has taken over our lives. We want to get everything done in the blink of an eye with the least amount of actions possible. Two-in-one shampoo and conditioner anyone? And when we go shopping, we want to make the least amount of stops possible. Why pop into a butcher, green grocer, and drug store when we can pick everything up from the same supermarket?
We, like most other couples, had devised a plan to make our shopping expeditions as fast as humanly possible. Shopping lists were written, at least by one of us, according to the aisle placement of products at our nearest Fairway. Panic would ensue whenever something was shifted since this would throw our well-planned sprint through the supermarket into disarray.
So, when we first landed in London, we were not exactly thrilled to find out that the large supermarkets we had become accustomed to couldn’t be found round the corner. There’s a Marks & Spencer food market, a Tesco Express, and a Sainsbury’s Local within a short walk, but none of them can be compared even to the smallest supermarket in our neighborhood in NYC. The fruit and vegetables selection is limited at best and there’s no butcher. For two people who enjoy cooking (and eating) as much as we do, this realization was a big disappointment.
Luckily, we live a short walk from Borough Market. For the history buffs, let’s point out that the first mention of Borough Market dates back to the 13th century, although it could have existed way before then. It has been moved and closed a number of times, but today’s version is one worth visiting. And oh boy, do tourists flock to the market! Going on a Saturday morning is an exercise in snaking through the throngs who just stop short in front of stalls to stare.
For locals, however, it’s an oasis of great produce. Butchers, green grocers, and speciality food vendors set up shop underneath the train tracks providing not only a colorful display, but also giving advice on cooking and preservation techniques. Here are some of our favorites:
- The Ginger Pig: You know you’ve found a great butcher when the people cutting your meat are actually interested and knowledgeable about the stuff they’re selling. When a question about preparation or dry aging receives blank stares, it’s time to search for another butcher. The Ginger Pig has been a hit on almost every occasion—there was an unfortunate incident with an exotic type of chicken that didn’t turn out very well. We ordered our Thanksgiving turkey from there, and weren’t disappointed. Most times we get steak or pork, but they also have some great types of sausage.
- The Olive Oil Co.: A rather small stall run by a group of Italians and selling mainly olive oil (well, as the name says) and balsamic vinegar. But this is not the run-of-the-mill stuff you get at the supermarket. This is the deliciously mouth watering liquid that will elevate a simple green salad into gastronomic stardom. A recent acquisition was truffle balsamic glaze, and it’s been a hit in our household. You can also get your olive oil bottles refilled at a discounted price—good for the environment and the wallet. What’s great is that they’re knowledgeable about the stuff they’re selling and very generous with tastings of the different oils and vinegars.
- Gastronomica: You know what else great olive oil and balsamic vinegar goes with? Fresh buffalo mozzarella. This Italian vendor is the place for that and more. Last weekend we discovered this mortadella with pieces of truffle, which was so sinfully scrumptious that it lasted all of 24 hours in our fridge. Add some salami calabrese and porchetta on toasted bread from Bread Ahead Bakery (also in the market) that’s been spread with our homemade habanero salsa, melt some mozzarella, add a bunch of arugula (or rocket) and you have a sandwich fit for a king.
- Turnips: Going to this treasure trove of fruits and vegetables on a Saturday morning is an exercise in self restraint. It’s close to the middle of the market and gets so crowded with people who just want to take a look that it’s almost impossible to maneuver your way around, especially if you’re carrying a few bags. But the selection is pretty big. Our most recent acquisition was a few morel mushrooms. Expensive, but boy do they make a great sauce! We served them as a side with steaks, but plan to crank out our pasta maker and make some homemade bucatini with morel mushrooms sauce in the very near future.
Of course, we’ve shopped from several other stalls in the market, but these four have required repeat visits and we would recommend them to anyone. We’ll keep updating you with new discoveries as we continue to move away from the convenience of going to a large supermarket and instead shop from small vendors who know what they’re doing.