My infatuation with markets has officially risen to new levels. When I joined my friends in London, my only request was to experience a single bazaar. After an all night travel session, I was surprised with a dream itinerary: an entire day dedicated to hitting London’s best markets!
What I ate: Classic cheddar grilled cheese, red wine sangria and macaron meringue.
Borough Market was our first stop – and possibly my favorite – of the London market tour. Perhaps it was because the last thing I had put in my stomach was a Dublin Airport refrigerator BLT, scarfed down at dawn. Or maybe it was because the beautiful high ceiling market felt like a greenhouse where the crop of the season was colorful food.
Ariela and her brother had done a run through of the market a week before, consuming immense grilled cheeses. We snaked through the stands on a mission to discover these golden treasures. Unlike my homemade variation – most often falling apart from impatience – these grilled cheeses were thick, buttery and melted to utter perfection. The cheese literally poured out from between the slices of bread like a waterfall of smoky molten lava.
Nestled into little chairs under the sun, we poured glasses of ambrosia, burgundy sangria to the brim – perfect for washing down thick layers of cheese. We then happened upon a quaint bakery stand, Comptoir Gourmand, displaying the most beautiful hybrid of French macaron and dizzily dulcet meringue. A crisp outer layer gave way to an airy cookie further unfolding into an inner filling reminiscent of marshmallow fluff. How could I resist such decadence?
What I ate: Brat topped with sauerkraut, pickle, mustard and burger sauce.
The market that most dazzles my dreams will forever remain Israel’s shuk. There is something unparalleled and thrilling about the exotic fare and heated bargaining. The Portobello Road Market conjured up a sense of the shuk’s organized chaos, but with its own funky London flare. Surrounded by antique jewelry and vintage denim, the entire marketplace felt like a collage of references, set to a soundtrack of upbeat reggae music. Nothing is better representative of this metaphor than the cuisine scene. Emerging from the sea of merchandise, the food stalls housed a global collection of street food. Under the blue sky, the closely huddled stands felt like a sanctuary – an apparition suddenly appearing.
Maybe a little homesick heart was making the decisions – rather than my typically bossy stomach – but I could not resist the massive bratwurst. “All Americans love sauerkraut,” laughed the friendly woman, as she piled on the acidic topping. This American also loves pickles, so the dainty cornichon was a much appreciated cherry on top. Slathering on some mustard and burger sauce, a brat eaten beside some of my favorite Badgers was the most ideal way to soothe a tough March Madness loss.
What I ate: Vegetable dumplings.
Set in a hip, artistic neighborhood, Brick Lane was by the far the coolest market we wove through. Brick Lane is dazzling sensory overload. Eyes feasted upon vivid hued walls where guerilla artists made their mark on the city as we inhaled a kaleidoscope of aromas. As a lover of street art, I was truly enthused when we stumbled upon the world’s coolest community garden. The space is filled with budding plants, lounging Londoners and psychedelic street art. Decorated vans were parked among the burgeoning greenery and I was once again reminded of what magic you can happen upon when you choose to simply follow a sign. The food options were endless, featuring authentic Indian food, gem-like oysters and fragrant dumplings. The latter was especially appealing and perfect for sharing. Like warm pockets housing the only vegetables I have eaten in month, the dumplings were burrowed into a hot chili sauce. The snack was surprisingly portable, convincing me that I should always travel with a platter of dumplings.
What I ate: Pizza affumicata with smoked mozzarella & pancetta and chicken bao.
We approached Camden Market around the point when golden hour hit. Camden market is intimidating in size and the most tourist oriented of the four markets. But it is also an essential for anyone who is still swept up in the food truck craze: Kerb, dedicated to displaying the diversity of London’s street food scene, has a horde of trucks set up in Camden. Although Kerb was closing up shop when our stomachs began to rumble once more, I was still able to seek out the dish that never disappoints – pizza!
Despite their small space, Fundi Pizza packs big flavor into the entree. The pizza prefabrication process is done in front of you, ensuring a taste reflecting the personal attention paid to the pie. We also strolled through a street reminiscent of one of Amsterdam’s narrow, snack filled corridors. Brimming with offers of samples, we instantly realized the staunch difference between Thai cuisine in London and the more delicate Thai dishes we had grown accustomed to. In fact, the Thai food in the market was evocative of the Chinese food we eat in America! I am convinced this conundrum necessitates a trip to Thailand through which I can finally decide who has the more authentic rendition. Either way, the bao I consumed – a traditionally Chinese dish – was authoritative in its deliciousness, like a massive pillow filled with savory chicken. Sweet dreams!
Soaking in Sixmilebridge
My trip home was interrupted by a bus strike, leaving me somewhat mystified in how to return home from Shannon Airport. Exhausted from an early wake up post daylight savings, I found myself getting frustrated with the pending labor of figuring out the multiple modes of transportation it would take to get home and the prospect of a much extended journey.
However, once I got in a taxi, I was struck by the kindness of the driver. As she drove me to the tiny town housing the train, she offered to drive me with no extra cost to Limerick if I found the station platform to be uncomfortable. Inspired by her goodwill, I began to open my eyes to the beauty of the day: a warm breeze, a cloudless blue sky and two hours to enjoy it all. Waiting at the outdoor train station suddenly seemed like a luxurious gift. I strolled down to the town of Sixmilebridge and settled next to a babbling brook to eat the best BLT of my life – redeeming my Dublin airport experience just days before. How lucky was I to be relaxing under the sun across from a field of cows, marooned in Ireland? And that is how I came to discover my own little version of the luck of the Irish.