A Tale of Two London Markets

Every long-term traveler has a different catalyst that starts them on their journey and that keeps them excited out there on the road. Some want to hop from one beautiful beach to the next chasing perpetual summer (an idea that doesn’t sound so bad as I sit here writing this in chilly Toronto!), whereas others...

Every long-term traveler has a different catalyst that starts them on their journey and that keeps them excited out there on the road. Some want to hop from one beautiful beach to the next chasing perpetual summer (an idea that doesn’t sound so bad as I sit here writing this in chilly Toronto!), whereas others set out to climb mountains, dive the planet’s best reefs, visit the world’s best art museums or volunteer with animals. Those are all admirable and perfectly valid reasons to pack your bags and hop on a plane, and we certainly enjoyed doing many of them, but none of those things were the main reason we decided to travel. Our reason was far simpler: Eat All The Things.

We didn’t just want to see the world—we wanted to taste it too.

To that end, we’ve visited some of the top food cities in the world, from Singapore to Penang. Heck, the whole reason we ended up adding Taiwan to our itinerary was because of food! If we learned anything from our gluttony-focused time gallivanting around Asia, it’s that there are few places that bring us as much joy as the local markets do. They’re generally fantastic for people-watching and getting a real flavor of the local life, they tend to be pretty photogenic, and they also allow us to engage in our favorite activity—eating—on the cheap.

One of the many reasons we were so sad to leave Asia was because we assumed we would be trading in markets for museums. Happily, London happens to be home to some pretty amazing markets… but sadly, there were far more markets than we could reasonably visit during our visit amongst all the other activities we tried to fit in during our time in the city. In fact, despite being overwhelmed with markets to visit, we only made it two of them! So while I can’t speak the least bit authoritatively on the best London markets or which markets in London you simply can’t miss (because I guess it would be these two?), I will talk about why I loved the two we did visit, and I hope that if you do make it to London, you’ll spend some time at both of them.

Borough Market

Borough Market is open Monday & Thursday from 10am – 5pm (Monday & Tuesday are lunch only, not the full market); Friday from 10am – 6pm; and Saturday from 8am – 5pm. Borough Market is closed on Sundays.
Borough Market, London

First up is the stalwart old standby, Borough Market. Rumored to date back to the 11th century (!), this covered market is nearly as old as London itself, and no market hop through the city would be complete without a stop here (hence why it tends to place first on most lists and roundups of the markets in the city). Borough’s main trade used to be fruits & veg, but these days it has expanded to include bread, cheese, oils, meat and seafood, and any other cooking staple you might wish to buy. Of course, being such an iconic landmark sitting on a prime piece of real estate (settled as it is between the Millennium and London bridges on the south bank of the Thames), and a popular tourist attraction to boot, any groceries purchased here will cost you a pretty penny. We were more than happy to gaze lovingly on the beautiful British produce (although there were a few surprising Asian fruits on offer, they all looked pretty pitiful and lackluster) and enjoy the many free samples that most of the vendors offer, but refrained from any proper grocery shopping.

We were in good company, it seemed, since in recent years more and more prepared food vendors have popped up around the market; normally we’re warned against food shopping on an empty stomach, but these days most people go to Borough specifically to eat on the spot. Most of the stalls seem to focus on modern British cuisine, although there are a few offering some more adventurous and international fare like paella and Japanese gyoza. Having sampled a thimbleful of one enthusiastic vendor’s Thai green curry, we both agreed that the traditional foods on offer seemed the most promising… After all, when in London!

Paella vendor, Borough Market, London

We ended up splitting a sandwich stuffed with roast pork, crackling and apples from the Roast restaurant stand and it was SO GOOD. As in, we devoured it in less than 5 minutes and then fought over the scraps like wild dogs and with a ferocity that rivaled the infamous KoftaGate incident of 2009. Like the sign promised, this sandwich was “Deliciously British”, two words you might not naturally pair together, but after one bite of this sandwich, you’ll be a believer. The pork was luscious and succulent and paired perfectly with the crisp crackling, sweet creamy apples and soft-yet-chewy bread. We have both eaten a lot of sandwiches in our lifetimes and I daresay this is one of the very best, certainly right up there with Thanksgiving leftovers and Philly Cheesesteaks. For days afterwards, we would turn to each other and say, “Remember the Roast sandwich?” and the other would groan with longing at the memory. Truthfully, we still do that, months later.

Roast pork sandwich, Borough Market

If I have any regrets about our time in London, it’s that we split this rather than each getting our own. And that we didn’t come back and eat it every single day. So, I’m just going to put it out there and say: If you come to London, you MUST EAT THIS SANDWICH OR YOUR TRIP WILL BE A WASTE. That’s right, I went there; this sandwich was just that damn good.

Also, what better beverage to wash it down with than the cocktail of posh tennis fans, a Pimm’s Cup? Apparently Pimm’s are to Brits what tinto de verano is to Spaniards and margaritas are to North Americans, read: the drink of summer. We’d never tried one before and at £3.50 (~$5.70US) they’re not exactly cheap but, once again, we figured “When in London…” Fortuitously, the stand that was flogging them (alongside sangria) began offering them at 2-for-1 rates, which seemed to be a sign from Bacchus himself that we needed to indulge. For those curious, the most prevalent Pimm’s is gin based and seems like one of those gateway drinks in that it tastes mostly fizzy and fruity and hardly boozey at all. Which is to say that it is a delight and the perfect accompaniment to have in hand while wandering the market.

Although most people advise you to visit Borough Market early in the day lest you be lost in the afternoon crush, we visited later in the day and found the crowds completely manageable. Moreover, if you arrive later in the day, many vendors wind up offering bargains about an hour before the market’s closing—like the aforementioned Pimm’s promotion—to get rid of unsold product.
James and Kirsty!
James and Kirsty!

All in all, I adored Borough Market and, along with our friends James & Kirsty (more friends met on this trip, this time in Indonesia!), we happily browsed the stands for close to two hours. Having featured in films such as Bridget Jones’s Diary and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s little wonder that at times it felt we had wandered onto a sound stage since parts of the market can’t help but look familiar to British film buffs. The area around the market and the beautiful Victorian architecture that encloses it are richly atmospheric and really feel the way I had envisioned a typical London market to feel. Sure, Borough Market has been polished and spiffed up, but that doesn’t detract from its rich history or the good eating it offers either. It’s squarely on the tourist trail, but it didn’t take very long to charm us and I’d wager most people feel the same.

Brixton Village Market

Brixton Market is open for lunch Wednesday through Friday. The full market runs on Friday & Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm. Brixton Market is closed on Monday, Tuesday & Sunday.

One of the things I love about London is how ultimately it’s a bunch of little cities coming together to form an incredible urban mosaic. You need only travel farther south to the district of Brixton to understand what I mean. Infamous for civil unrest and race riots through the 1980s and 1990s, the energy in Brixton is completely different from that at Borough Market.

The main building at Brixton market is filled with a hodgepodge of restaurants—from Jamaican West Indian joints to burgers to Mexican—and a bunch of vintage and thrift shops. Essentially, it’s like the best flea market you’ve ever been to.

We arrived at the market in time for brunch, so after a quick browse decided on a breakfast place called Burnt Toast, largely because their pancakes were the size of a dinner plate. In case you needed proof that Brixton is on its way up in the city of London, our order of mixed berry pancakes set us back a whopping £10 (~$16US), which is obviously insane, but they were also ridiculously good. We also split a bacon sarnie (£5.50/~$9US), because: BACON. Also, you can’t visit England and not have a bacon sandwich!

Obviously the food at London markets is a shade more expensive than any of the markets we frequented in Asia, but the food was uniformly fantastic; just like at Borough market, we rolled out of Brixton with smug smiles plastered across our faces.

As much as I loved Borough market, Brixton might be even more my kind of place. The shops are a bit rough around the edges, but they are all painted bright, peppy colors and have upbeat Caribbean music pumping from their stereos. Old-school butcher shops and grocer stands sit alongside shops selling braids and beads. Unlike stiff-upper-lip Borough where the clientele would largely be at home in an Agatha Christie novel, the demographic in Brixton is decidedly more heterogeneous and a whole lot more ethnic. Although the area has in recent years been the site of cultural renaissance (that some argue is really gentrification), the streets here still hum with a vibrant energy that feels a little bit rough and tumble, a little edgy. If Borough is the heart of London’s market scene, then Brixton just might be its soul.

Brixton Village Market, London

Although we didn’t know it at the time, I actually can’t think of two better markets we could have visited while in London. Both Brixton and Borough were delightful in their own rights, but they each also allowed us to tap into a very different side of the city, which I think is just fascinating. To me, London is meant for exploring, since no two nooks or boroughs will be the same, each will have a different story to share. These two markets are proof enough of that: Borough is the London of Charles Dickens and Oliver Twist; Brixton is the London of David Bowie, The Clash and countless African and Caribbean immigrants. I love that in a city as large as London, the two can not only coexist, but flourish and glory in their differences as well.

The next time I find myself in London, I’ll make it a priority to seek out other markets, like the ones in Greenwich, Hackney, and Brick Lane. London may be a world away from sweltering South East Asia, but it seems the things we loved about the markets there —the food, the sense of community, the secret sides to a city—are also alive and well here.

Tell Us: If you’ve been to London, what’s your favorite market? If you haven’t been, which of these two markets—Borough or Brixton—would you most want to visit? And most importantly: Which of these amazing things we ate would you most like to try?

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27 comments Leave a comment

  1. Going to markets is one of my favorite activities. I absolutely love people watching and finding cheap, delicious food is a big plus. Both of these markets sound awesome but if I had to choose I think I’d go with Brixton. Like you, I tend to veer toward places that have a little more grit to them. Plus, I have a thing for Carribean culture so I love that it has that influence. With your past couple posts my boyfriend and I find that we’re really wanting to visit London as soon as we can!

    Sep. 19 2014 @ 10:56 pm
    1. Justine author

      After so much time in lively Asia, but also rather homogenous Asia too, it was really exciting to visit Brixton and really be surrounded by so many different cultures. I know that London in generally is very multicultural, but I felt as though we really got to observe that in Brixton, and I really loved that… it certainly reminded me of home here in Toronto!

      Sep. 21 2014 @ 5:25 pm
  2. I love Borough Market in London, it is pricey but the quality of the food there is incredible and there even is a stall that only sells veggie burgers and other delicious food. Shame we didn’t get to see Brixton Market and I’m very surprise I’ve never made it there considering the amount of times I’ve been to London, next time I guess 🙂

    Sep. 20 2014 @ 3:23 am
    1. Franca author

      Yes, the quality of goods (barring the Asian fruits!) seemed very high at Borough and everything we tried (even the not-exactly-authentic Thai curry) was really good too. I don’t think I could afford to do my regular shopping there if I lived in London, but as a place to pop by for lunch or a snack, it’s fantastic!

      I hope the next time you make it to London that you make time for Brixton; I really think you guys would love it there!

      Sep. 21 2014 @ 5:28 pm
  3. I miss Borough so much! My favourite food there was the garlic prawn wrap from Appleby’s – divine! I never went to Brixton market so will definitely have to put it on my list for next time. Food wise, Brick Lane Market and Broadway Market are also fantastic choices 🙂

    Sep. 20 2014 @ 5:52 am
    1. Katie @ The World on my Necklace author

      Ha! Appleby’s is the name of an American chain (although it is spelled “Applebee’s”) that is not known for their great food, so I did a double-take when I read what you missed from Borough. That wrap sounds amazing… almost good enough to tempt me away from my amazing Roast sandwich…

      Thanks for the suggestions for other London markets. Next time we’re in town, we’re definitely going to make it a priority to visit a few more!

      Sep. 21 2014 @ 5:32 pm
      1. Haha yea definitely not the same Appleby/ie’s. My mouth is watering right now thinking of their prawn wraps 🙂

        Sep. 21 2014 @ 6:56 pm
  4. Borough is my absolute fave! When we lived in London my office was just down the road from there and we’d go there for a Friday lunch treat – I love the toasted cheese sandwich stall and the Pieminster pies. I miss that market so much! The whole area from London Bridge down the South Bank to Waterloo is my fave part of London. I’m so glad you guys visited and were able to write such positive things about British food; too often people stereotype it as being terrible when actually it’s pretty damn good, especially in London. When I heard you were going to Borough I knew instantly that you’d try that sandwich too – I’m glad you liked it 🙂 Next time definitely check out Greenwich, there’s also a traditional pie and mash shop there that I think you would love!

    Sep. 20 2014 @ 9:26 am
    1. Amy author

      You’re right that British food doesn’t tend to have a great reputation, however I really think that’s based on outdated stereotypes! Modern British cooking seems to revolve around good quality whole ingredients and strong simple flavors, and I definitely respect that. To be perfectly honest, London was one of our favorite food destinations in Europe and we loved pretty much everything we ate while there. I definitely dream about that sandwich at Borough market… Next time we’ll definitely have to try pie & mash!

      Sep. 21 2014 @ 5:35 pm
  5. that roast sandwich does look really good! I was just telling Ben how much I’d love to go visit his family in England and just EAT everything!

    Sep. 21 2014 @ 2:13 am
    1. Rachel of Hippie in Heels author

      You should absolutely do that! Although not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, London is actually a great food city! We largely stuck to British foods during our visit and we still missed out on a bunch of things that we’ll have to try next time. Despite the bad rap English food gets, we really loved our eating adventures in London.

      Sep. 21 2014 @ 5:37 pm
  6. Now I know: do not miss the Roast sandwich at Borough Market! I would love to go! Yummo!!

    Sep. 21 2014 @ 7:15 am
    1. Emily author

      I’d almost say that a trip to London just to eat that sandwich would be worth it. It’s that good! 😀

      Sep. 21 2014 @ 5:37 pm
  7. Very cool! I definitely feel more attracted to Brixton than Borough, just from the vibe of your photos, but they both sound great. I love me a good market! I’m the kind of person that can see a stand of oranges or bread or olives and it’s the most exciting thing to happen to me all week. And if I don’t get to eat those oranges or that bread or those olives, then I die a little inside. 🙂

    Sep. 21 2014 @ 7:30 am
    1. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling author

      If this is how you feel about markets, then you definitely have to visit some of the London markets. They were really such enjoyable places to visit and they really felt like they were simply celebrating the beautiful produce and products that were on offer. And I love, love, loved that Borough had so many free samples happening—we definitely enjoyed many nibbles of bread dredged in artisanal olive oil, lots of fresh local cheeses, spicy salsas and marinades and plenty more. Absolute freebie heaven!

      Sep. 21 2014 @ 5:41 pm
  8. Wow, what perfect timing, i’ll be visiting London next week and I had these on my list and OMG that sandwich is really a must do, thanks for sharing it and I’ll be thinking of you guys when I get my first bite. BTW, please do share this post for Travel Photo Mondays, everyone is going go gaga, I know I did.

    Sep. 21 2014 @ 5:41 pm
    1. noel author

      So happy you found this post in time & we can’t wait to hear a report back on what you think of the sandwich as well as these two markets! I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed in any of them!

      Sep. 23 2014 @ 8:22 am
  9. Brixton Village (the indoor section of the market with the shops and eateries) is actually open until late most of the week, it’s just the outdoor market stalls that close at 5pm. I totally agree about the eclectic and vibrant atmosphere of Brixton. We lived near there last December and ate some great dinners (Thai, Caribbean jerk chicken and Asian dumplings were the highlights) and I still miss it all the time. Even if it is a bit pricey 😉

    Sep. 22 2014 @ 6:02 am
    1. Julia author

      Thanks for the info on Brixton, Julia. I was using the information I gleaned from Brixton’s rather confusing website, so it’s good to know that the Village Market building is open a bit more frequently than they implied.

      I’m so jealous of the time you got to spend living near Brixton… I can only imagine how amazing that Caribbean food must have been!

      Sep. 22 2014 @ 2:42 pm
  10. I LOVE both of these places. Even though Borough is super popular, the prepared food is awesome and if you go early enough on a Saturday it’s usually not TOO crowded. I’m also a really big fan of the prosecco on tap there. And Brixton, oh Brixton. I once did a day of restaurant hopping there and it was amazing. I love how it’s a market but that most places have a storefront and seating.

    Next time you’re in London go to Broadway and Netil Markets. They are right next to each other and have an awesome selection. The bao from Bao at Netil is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. And then go hang out in London Fields. It will be an awesome day. I promise 🙂

    Sep. 22 2014 @ 7:39 am
    1. Amanda @ Farsickness author

      Compared to Asia, we really didn’t find anywhere in London to be crowded… Maybe the natural history museum on Bank Holiday Monday, but we felt the markets were always manageable. 🙂 I was really impressed with the food on offer at both markets; definitely suggested to me that London at least is tired of being given flack for its food scene!

      And thanks for the recommendations for other markets for us to explore the next time we’re in town. That’s the second recommendation we’ve received re: Broadway Market, so we’ll certainly have to check it out!

      Sep. 22 2014 @ 2:45 pm
  11. OMG I NEED THAT ROAST PORK SANDWICH. I’m seriously considering flying to London just to have one.

    Sep. 22 2014 @ 3:14 pm
    1. Heather author

      You really really do need that sandwich. I would not judge you (except in the very best possible way) if you did fly to London just to have it. I wish I could join you!

      Sep. 22 2014 @ 8:00 pm
  12. I love markets. We just went to the Granville Island market in Vancouver BC and although it was crazy busy because of a Tugboat fair or something like that (and it was a sunny Saturday in September), it was just fun to wander around all the stalls. We’ll go back next weekend. Those markets look amazing and that sandwich….drool. I need that sandwich in my life.

    WHEN you come visit the PNW, we’ll of course go to Pike’s Place Market, but we’ll also need to road trip down to Portland for the farmers market at Portland State. No better way to spend a sunny Saturday morning.

    Sep. 23 2014 @ 12:49 pm
    1. Carmel author

      I cannot wait to experience PNW markets! I know there is good eating to be had on the west coast, even if the only taste of it I’ve had was in San Francisco (which has a very lovely but extremely expensive market as well!). (Also, I’m not bashing SF, obviously, but I know there is more to west coast eating than SanFran!)

      We have a pork roast in the freezer, we have bread, and we have apples. Why haven’t I made this sandwich for myself already?!?

      Sep. 24 2014 @ 2:38 pm
  13. What a beautiful review Steph! My heart always gladdens when I read good stuff about my original home-town as I’m not called “The British Berliner” for nothing LOL!

    You picked two really good markets. I’m from Manchester Steph, but I lived in London for a few years after university. I lived in Dulwich, a leafy suburb not too far away. I used to go to Borough Market for the cheese at Neal’s Yard, and general all-round chilling. Just the best.

    Brixton Market is cool for that all round cosmopolitan ethnic look but my personal favourites are Camden Lock Market in the North of London. Near the river and the old horse yard. Lots of hippy and punk fashion at the same time! There’s also a fantastic club nearby too.
    Brick Lane Market for Asian vibe and look. You’d be transported into Bangladesh and India, in a megasecond!
    And also Covent Garden Market for organic stuff, Greenwich Market for pie and mash and Pearly Kings, and Carnaby Street Market for “Swinging London” of the 60’s and hip and trendy clothing and style!

    Favourite market food: Cheese and wine!

    Sep. 24 2014 @ 12:55 am
    1. Victoria@ The British Berliner author

      I’m so glad this post brought back such good memories for you and thank you so much for all of your market suggestions. They all sound AMAZING; clearly our exploration of London markets has only just begun. I can’t wait to go back and check out some of the other ones you’ve recommended!

      Sep. 24 2014 @ 2:40 pm

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