British Food: the flavours at Borough Market
By Sheila Dillon, presenter Radio 4's The Food Programme
Tucked behind London's least known cathedral, the glorious mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Southwark, St Saviour and St Mary Overie, sits a market that gives the lie to every cliché ever written about British food.
Every Friday and Saturday, around 60 of Britain's best food producers gather under the railway arches to sell food of outstanding quality.
History of the market
It's an old market – first mentioned in the 13th century when it caused the local burghers great inconvenience by creating congestion on London Bridge. It's been at its present site since 1754 – as a wholesale market.
Two hundred and forty years later it was moribund – but revived by the vision of two people.
Fred Manson, Southwark's dynamic director of area regeneration - who is also a great cook and food lover - saw that the market could become a key part of the area's economic revival.
And Henrietta Green, author of the Food Lovers' Guide to Britain and an unflagging celebrator of good local food, realised that the market was the perfect setting for a Christmas food fair that would introduce Londoners to the food produced by the men and women she'd documented.
On a weekend in December 1998, thousands of people came to the market – stunning the market trustees who’d been sceptical about "foodies" in Southwark, and the stallholders themselves who sold out on the first day and had to call farms for emergency supplies. The revival of the area had begun.
Now Borough is where you shop if you want the best: all stallholders have to pass a rigorous quality test.
On the many stalls, you'll find plenty of choice for fresh bread, chocolate, meat, fish and game, as well as prepared snacks and foods that will keep you happy for the rest of the day.
Bread and meat
Two bakers at Borough Market offer organic pain de campagne, chocolate brownies, and rye and sour dough loaves - to give you entirely new thoughts about the baker's art.
Here you can meet the two men who between them saved one of the oldest breeds of sheep in Britain – the Herdwicks that thrive on the Lakeland hills. Andrew Sharp sells meat from his own and his neighbours' farms. Try wether or hogget.
Peter Gott (the one in gaiters, bowler and red kerchief) concentrates on processed meats – bacon, sausages, dried hams, salamis, pies and more – made from rare-breed pigs and wild boar. He also has Lancashire cheese and farm butter.
Fish and game
In one stall, you'll be able to find the best potted shrimp in Britain, plus wild fish, rabbits in their skins and hares in season. In another, two West Country divers sell fresh, hand collected scallops – and will cook them for you.
Then there are pies and smoked eel, plus many more opportunities to exercise your taste buds and challenge your prejudices. Outside the borders of France there isn't a place like it. And just a tube ride away.
Address: Borough High Street, SE1. Tube: London Bridge
BBC site: Markets in South London
BBC site: Boost for British cuisine
BBC site: Radio 4 - The Food Programme
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