Studying abroad in London was one of the best experiences of my life. My favorite activity living my life as a "South Londoner" was walking outside my flat and taking a stroll along the South Bank, which of course, led to the ultimate foodie haven: BOROUGH MARKET.
Along my near-daily route (just ask any of my flatmates), I would walk past the National Theatre (where The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time premiered), the Globe Theatre (where I saw an incredible production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream--I danced my way home!), the Tate Modern (which had a lovely Georgia O'Keefe exhibition during my four months there), and the Oxo Tower (remember Andrew Lincoln's meltdown after Keira Knightley watched his wedding video in Love Actually--that's the location!). I would sit on the park bench that Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster sat on when they talked about "the total agony of being in love" by Gabriel's Wharf as I looked out onto St. Paul's Cathedral.
But after channeling my inner Adele in the "Someone Like You" video strutting like I meant it alongside the River Thames, I would feast my eyes on the place in London that would instantly put a smile on my face as soon as I saw its green and white awning. My home-away-from-home. BOROUGH MARKET.
It's the oldest food market in London, dating back 1,000 years to 1014. Parliament even declared that the market would stay "an estate for the use and benefit” of the local community “for ever” in 1754. Thanks to our friends in Westminster, Borough Market will always be there with its wafts of smells emanating from the pad thai sizzling on the pans of Khanom Krok and the gooey cheese dripping ever so gently onto potatoes at the Kappacasein Dairy station. Borough Market is one of my favorite places in the whole world, and so you are not entirely overwhelmed when you walk inside this haven, here is a guide to the top stalls and restaurants you should peruse after taking your own walk along the delightful South Bank.
My first-ever stop at Borough Market (after browsing every stall I could set my eyes on) was Boston Sausage right at the end of the alley that runs alongside Borough Market's interior. Their homemade Lincolnshire (My Mad Fat Diary, anyone?) sausages are sold on sticks or in "bab" form (aka sandwiches) like the one you see above loaded with caramelized onions and ketchup on a warm, grilled bun. If you want an upgraded breakfast sandwich or the European version of a gourmet burger, this stall is for you.
The rosemary focaccia from Olivier's Bakery, which you'll find in the middle of the grand hall of Borough Market, is a must-have. You can either purchase food to eat on-site or for take-away to bring home after your visit, and Olivier's calls for the latter. Their rosemary focaccia has the perfect combination of salt and butter to make the roughness of the crust and light texture of the crumb inside tasty enough that you can eat an entire loaf in two days (guilty as charged).
Who doesn't want to watch a barista work his magic? Borough has plenty of lovely coffee vendors, but Flat Cap has it all. The look, the taste, the strong caffeine! When you've made your way to Borough on a cruel winter morning and you're shivering in your coat and boots (i.e., me three months ago), look no further than a Flat Cap cappuccino at the back of the market to give you that jolt of energy you so desperately crave (man, do I miss European espresso).
If you're yearning for a taste of France but don't want to hitch a ride on the Eurostar, Le Marché du Quartier is here to ease your pain. This tucked-away stall right across from Monmouth Coffee is known for their amazing duck confit--in burger, sandwich, or salad form. If you're leaning towards the lighter side but still want something substantial (like I was one Thursday afternoon), definitely go for the salad variation. The duck is mixed with a mustard chutney that adds just the right amount of juiciness to the salad without drenching the leaves too much, and somehow managed to turn me into someone that actually likes mustard now. The power of Borough, my friends.
Unlike the bratwurst that gave me food poisoning in Munich, these European versions of hot dogs courtesy of the German Deli won't let you down. They're juicy on the inside and the cool ketchup on top perfectly counteracts the heat surging from the bratwurst. But do be careful on your first bite--you might burn your tongue if you try to gobble it down too quickly!
La Tua Pasta is the real deal. They make handmade pasta every day (sans Sunday when Borough is closed) and have a new special each week for take-away. My favorite, unsurprisingly, was the pumpkin tortelloni with parmesan sprinkled on top. But you really can't go wrong with a bowl of black truffle tortelloni or gnocchi with pesto if gourd fillings aren't your style.
If you want a more typical dining experience and a *table* with a view, Rabot 1745 definitively has the most scenic vantage point from their second-level terrace. Rabot is all about the cacao (the purest form of chocolate you can consume) and features it in every dish on the menu. Upon my friend's recommendation, I tried the mac & cheese in a cacao nib shell. Now I know you wouldn't think off the bat that cheese and chocolate is necessarily a winning pair (I was skeptical too), but this dish of your good old mac with aged cheddar, field mushrooms, cacao ketchup, and spiced coleslaw is actually a delicious Caribbean tradition. So if you feel the urge, take your copy of Pride & Prejudice, march right up to the hostess, ask for a table for one, and enjoy watching the rumblings of Borough from the best seat in the market.
I'll give you another minute to watch as that decadent cheese oozes onto that pile of potatoes. You can either come to Kappacasein Dairy for a hearty cheese toastie (the Brit version of a grilled cheese) or order this Swiss raclette that you see above. Think cheese fries, but a majorly upgraded version. You can actually WATCH as they heat up cheese made from organic cow's milk until it's bubbling on the brim and then (and only then) do they scrape it off onto a pile of boiled potatoes. Cheese connoisseurs, rejoice.
Padella was the last meal I ate at Borough with my London flatmates, so it holds a special place in my heart. The pasta is handmade (Borough, you outdo yourself with all this handmade pasta), a reasonable portion for a single person, cheap, and requests that you specifically tell them if you don't want parmesan (oh how I love Britain's adoration of cheese). But be warned, they don't take reservations and there is usually a pretty long line for dinner, so I'd recommend going at lunchtime. And the spinach ravioli with its nutty ricotta filling and pool of sage butter for some extra richness. It makes you think of Green Eggs & Ham!
Make sure you get a stamp card, because you're going to need it. Pieminister (get it, Prime Minister?) has locations all across England, including quite the choice spot in Gabriel's Wharf in addition to its pop-up at Borough. Their award-winning pies are not necessarily those of the sweet variety, but comprise savory options for both vegetarians and carnivores alike. If you're in the mood for a veggie sampling, go for the "Heidi" (Somerset's goat cheese, sweet potato, spinach, and red onion filling). But if you want an option featuring their free range British meat, try the "Funghi Chicken" or the "Free Ranger," both filled with chicken and enclosed by a flaky and crunchy crust (the most important part of the pie, naturally).
Italy doesn't seem so far away when you have Gastronomica to satiate your desires for "real Italian food" with their stocks of over 200 Italian cheeses, hams, and other products imported from the motherland. They have an ample selection of panini to choose from, but you should never stray from their prosciutto with fresh mozzarella. Toasted in a press on focaccia or ciabatta bread, biting into one of these babies feels like you're walking through the streets of Roma. But hey, Borough is a pretty close second.
12. Khanom Krok
The peanuts. The noodles. The chicken. The veggies. The sour lemon to tie it all together. COME TO KHANOM KROK FOR CHICKEN PAD THAI. I promise you, you won't be disappointed. My friends and I would order one of these every other venture to Borough, and if you're not a fan of Thai food yet, after one taste of Khanom Krok's generous portion of the delicacy, you certainly will be. And don't worry if you're struggling to pick up the chicken with your chopsticks--they have plenty of forks available.
Every stall at Borough has delicious food to offer, and what do you expect of the food market to put all others to shame? But Comptoir Gourmand is the fairest stall of them all. Before I left for London, my friend Gabby gave me one piece of advice: "Go to Borough Market. Go for the big cookies." My first trip to Borough, I scoured throughout the whole market until I found one of these gigantic monstrosities of cookies. And she was not exaggerating. These cookies are indeed the SIZE OF YOUR FACE. They're super moist on the inside and are littered with numerous dark chocolate chocolate chips. I got one of these specifically for my sister's birthday when she came to visit. And this was the last treat I ate from Borough before flying back home to the States. But thanks to that ordinance from 1754, I know that my dear cookies will be there waiting for me in the back of my beloved market till I return one day.
Borough is a magical place of joy, of love, and most importantly, of food galore, and I am so excited for you all to experience its wonders for yourselves. But no matter which stall you choose or sample from, make sure to go for the big cookies before you head back out for your walk home along the River Thames. You won't regret it. Cheers.