Sunday 21 September 2014

Who's in the market for chorizo in a bun?

On the left you'll see one of London's top street foods, Brindisa's chorizo sandwich from Borough Market.

I've been eating this delicacy for over twelve years now, and it brings back special memories of when I moved to London, started a family and my love of food really started to take off.

This was my first visit to Borough Market in some time, and it's certainly changed - but then again, the market is no stranger to change.

The market has been in operation at least a thousand years, sitting strategically at the southern end of London Bridge, once the only bridge across the Thames.

However, by the 1990s the market was struggling. Like the other major London markets - Smithfields, Billingsgate, (New) Covent Garden, Borough was a wholesale market, open from 2am to 8am, selling fruit and vegetables to the high street grocers and restaurants of London. In fact, it still is, and I must try and get there early one day for an experience of the more ancient Borough Market.

The fortunes of the market changed in 1998 with the arrival of Brindisa and Neal's Yard, and the first Food Lovers' Fair. They had decided to open a retail market - initially on the third Saturday of every month. I would love to claim I was there at that first fair - for foodies, this is like seeing the Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (where if everyone who claimed they went actually went, the hall would have been filled three times over).

In fact, I probably first went around 2002, when the market was now twice weekly, with a second, smaller retail market on Friday. The market was at a point of transition - it was no longer the preserve of the foodies-in-the-know and trendy restaurateurs. It had been 'discovered' - in no small part because of a mention on the programme of a new, bright eyed and bushy tailed chef by the name of Jamie Oliver.

This was apparently the market for the very best ingredients - yet we lived just down the road, probably passing over on the train every day - and had never been.

I still remember the excitement of our first trips. It was still very much a market - you came to buy things. We still talk in hushed and reverential tones about the Borough Market chicken - our first not to come from a supermarket, our first organic and free range, and probably our first to actually taste of chicken.

Brindisa clicked early on that looking at all these ingredients might actually make people hungry - and so they started cooking up their chorizo sausage and selling it to the hungry market goers. There's no doubt it was a great advertisement too. Also, there was the legendary queue - nothing like an hours' wait to get the mouth drooling in anticipation.

So there I was, last week, with my Brindisa chorizo in a bun, feeling a little sad and nostalgic. Why? Because I didn't have to queue for it. In fact, the guys at the stall were handing out free samples to try and entice custom. What's happened in the last ten years is that Borough Market is now an attraction, and it's had to change accordingly.

Listening to the babble of languages around me tells me that tourists dominate the visitors to Borough, and they don't want to walk round Tate Modern and Madame Tussauds with a back of vegetables and raw meat to cook on their trouser press in the hotel room. They want to taste some delicious food - right now - and move on to their next destination.

So Borough Market has become a huge food hall, and Brindisa's chorizo bun had to compete with goat tacos, fresh sweet corn and steak sandwiches in its little section alone. In the newly refurbished Three Crown Square there was there was a whole cornucopia of eating options. And to your average tourists, the Borough stalwarts of Brindisa and Neal's Yard are no more or less famous than any other stall on the market. Why queue for chorizo when there's three different paellas for sale just over there?

Change isn't a bad thing. The new look market is still vibrant and exciting, and all the food for sale continues to look delicious and inviting. All the old favourites are still there, and if I want to buy ingredients without having to fight through the tourists, well, I should come early. And who am I kidding? I don't live in South London any more, I don't want to carry a chicken home on the train. But a part of me, just a little part of me, wanted to queue for my chorizo in a bun.

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