Interior of Borough Market by Mike Bernard
‘Do you know the Muffin Man, the muffin man, the muffin man … This one lived on Drury Lane, but the song keeps popping into my head when I go to Borough Market. I am transported back to the days of street sellers, fish mongers, swishing skirts and soot soaked caps – I am not of the present but tripping through the past when I to Borough Market.
Perhaps the cockles and whelks and jellied eels have something to do with it. Since a fairy friend introduced me to Emma of Coutours, I am learning more about Borough Market. More about London. My first tour, ‘The History of Street Food’ had me spilling stories of pineapples, pies and all sorts of doings and goings on in this famous spot that is alive with food and fantasy. I am falling in love all over again.
For years, just admiring the mushrooms was good enough for me. I love the way they look, cuties all. Avoided the cheese up close experience: seriously, you have to love cheese to volunteer for the olfactory overture. As for the seafood – let’s just say a non fish eater was, occasionally, very disturbed by the smell and ghastly, dead eyes staring up at me. Dead rabbits, dead pheasants … I mean, I liked going there but being a little greenling foodling, happy to amble and hit Waitrose on the way home.
Oh my Word!
The transformation in a short few years. This growing up, meat, rice and potatoes girl is on a fluffy cloud of food adoration. London does that to you, opens your mind and your soul to the markets of magic in food. Seasonal Autumn now, risottos in pans, as big as my flat, lure me closer. I am studying the detail of artichokes, tripping on artisanal caffeine and shhhh, those toasted cheese sarmies are my nemesis.
Back to yore of shouting sellers, the noise, cacophony of baskets, bales, potatoes and venison. Sweet cherries licked to dispel the soot. Brine and beer and playwrights and not spoken of. I am a Londoner now – fully immersed in lore and stories and in these markets, in Borough Market, I think of the Oyster men and the shrimp girls and am grateful to them, and being here to discover more and more each day.
Would I have made a suitable shrimp girl? For the non sea sort, I sort of think I would. I could sell them, if not eat them. But I think I understand the tale of making the most of what life gives us, how far produce goes from field to fork – the dedication of self to support.
In Borough, every time, I am happy to be a tourist, a local, a learner. And eater of nearly all now.
In the learning, I am loving the smelliest cheese, the squishiest urchin, the bread, the cured meat, the plums and plaice. And in love with the idea that I am treading where so many have done before – the ghosts are there, and they are friendly ones.
To the pub she says … to the story.
‘Do you know the muffin man … the muffin man, the muffin man …’ Sort of think I do.
Image: Mike Bernard.