The first time I visited the Borough, I was grocery shopping with my aunt.
Since I had complained of the mediocrity of British food, she wanted to impress me with a delicious meal made from the best local products London had to offer. She took me to Borough Market, nestled alongside London Bridge, because it had been providing London with fresh food of the highest caliber as far back as the early 11th century! We assembled a sumptuous meal from an assortment of breads, fishes, fruits, and vegetables—all perishable ingredients.
When I later returned to London as a tourist, my first instinct was to recreate those heavenly tastes at home in the States, but I quickly realized that I had to switch gears. Since everything I purchased was going to be stuffed into a suitcase and hauled across the Atlantic, I went shopping at Borough Market for long-lasting items that would enhance my pantry. As a traveler, this was the best I could do. Check out my favorite stalls below for suitcase-ready delicacies.
Tip: Borough market is the BEST place to eat a scrumptious lunch. Food in London can be frightfully expensive, but grabbing a delicious meat pie for £4 or a fresh spinach and goat cheese quiche for £2.50— and a pear and almond tart for £2— certainly doesn’t break the bank. Not to mention that you can fill up on delicious samples of cheese, charcuterie, and figs! You will leave decrying urban America’s lack of an old-fashioned market culture.
1. Pimento Hill
Chutneys and sauces of the Jamaican variety! The owner’s recipes were passed down from her great-grandmother. Her products, canned in old-fashioned jars, evoke nostalgia for the homemade. They provide the perfect way to add depth and complexity to steak or steamed vegetables. Pimento Hill buys all ingredients from local farmers, transforming English organic material into spicy traditional Jamaican marinades. It’s a wonderful place to buy items for your pantry by the jar.
If you love curries but have always been too afraid to make them yourself, Spice Mountain sells ready-made dry curries from a wide selection—vindaloo, rogan josh, tikka masala, Karachi, Burmese, etc.—any five for only £10. Spice Mountain provides the perfect way for us to try cooking our favorite curries in our own kitchen, rather than having to eat out.
3. Neal’s Yard
Cheese! Succulent loads of cheese! Wheels bigger than tires. There is a barn-like feel to Neal’s Yard. The shop is relaxing and homey. The attendants eagerly offer up slices of their finest cheeses as samples. The cheeses I tried had been made locally in England. I enjoyed how their complex, dense texture melted in my mouth, their tastes riddled with varying degrees of sharpness. When I explained that I would be flying home, the shopkeepers took extra care in wrapping my cheese in layers of wax and plastic. It survived the return trip in perfect condition!
4. Darjeeling Loose Leaf Tea
The stall’s owner, Ratan, first attracted my attention when he mentioned that Prince Charles had stopped by to sample and purchase his teas. He had no one to drink tea and chat with that afternoon, so he asked if I would join him. Intrigued, I readily agreed. With great excitement, he lovingly prepared a cup of Darjeeling tea for me. He instructed that I should always cover the steeping tealeaves with cold water to lock in the flavors. He showed me each of his handpicked teas, which he had sampled and approved himself on Indian farms. He explained the differences between them, how when they were harvested affected their flavor and strength. Needless to say, the cup of tea he had brewed for me was crisp, refreshing and tinged with grassy sweetness.
This stall brings unique products from Greek artisan farmers that shoppers can sample, such as olive oils pressed with apples, walnuts, cinnamon, honey, lemon, and sage. An oil of such complex flavors certainly evokes the sensibility of magical elixirs. Their more popular items include wild saffron olive oils, fresh kalamata olives, olive leaf tea, Greek honey, and healing oils (St. John’s Wort). But more importantly, the vendors at Oliveology seek to educate shoppers on the acidity, extraction temperatures, and health benefits of the products. I truly enjoyed sampling these quality ingredients while also learning about their place in Greek history and culture. I got utterly lost in the earthy-yet-pearlescent amber and caramel tones of Greek honey; after I tasted some, my tongue radiated with a touch of sensuous sweetness throughout the afternoon.