East London Foodie Gem


Saturday morning upon us and threatening clouds still looming in the sky, my husband and I were at a loss about how to spend our afternoon.  We’ve been so busy with travel and guests that it was a bit of a luxury to wake up with an empty schedule, if only the London weather wasn’t quite so Londony!

Fiendish & Goode’s stall of “Fine Fancies”

Borough Market with my sister had been such fun that I thought perhaps we should look for another street market, not necessarily food centric, and take a stroll.  East London seemed our best bet as it has a fabulous mix of hip young people and classic London history. There would undoubtedly be loads to look at, if nothing else.

Broadway Market in Hackney is bounded by London Fields to the North and Regents Canal to the South.  According to their website, trading at this market began back in the 1890s and it was a vibrant commerce hub to East Londoners, surviving the bombs of two vicious world wars only to face destruction during the Thatcher years when the community all but dried up.  It wasn’t until 2004 that measures were taken to breathe life back into the street by encouraging traders to return, and slowly they have and along with it a variety of permanent shops and a well-heeled crowd.

Cook’s Restaurant

The first place we encountered, surprised me some and made me shudder just a little bit, although it shouldn’t have. Jellied Eels are a speciality of this Cockney region of London and there are over 80 Pie Mash and Eel shops still in business here.  Cooks, at the South edge of Broadway Market, has been serving this “delicacy” since 1900 when it provided lunch for shepherds herding their flocks along the nearby canal.  Their popularity survives in spite of what sounds like perhaps the most disgusting thing on earth, as was illustrated when we went in to take a look at the original fixtures of the restaurant and talk to the very bored teenage girl tending to orders, they had sold out of their eels for the day (thank goodness).

Fin and Flounder’s Mackerel Bap

But the idea of fish struck a chord, and as we meandered we came across Fin and Flounder’s stall with chalkboards touting a variety of fresh fish sandwiches.  I ordered the Sexy Scallop Sardie with Cornish Scallops and a Marcilla Black Pudding and Ghazi ordered the Mackerel Bap with line-caught Cornish Mackerel (now in season), rocket and a delicious herby, garlicy mayo.  While we waited for our fish to be cooked the woman tending to us explained that this is merely an outpost for the permanent shop just up the road.  Taking our sandwiches in hand we promised to check it out, and indeed there was a long queue in front of the bright blue shop front with people waiting to buy their sustainably sourced seafood.

Violet’s gorgeous sweets display

The sardie and bap (sandwiches to you and me) were quite delicious and checking the horizon to make sure the rain clouds hadn’t edged any closer, we continued snooping through the market stalls. Again, lots of cheese, lots of veg, lots of prepared desserts, lots of artisan loaves.  However, beyond the basics, this  was a veritable food court for hipsters: perogies, endless combinations of sweet and savory pies, vegan wraps, samosas, a man whipping together Mexican tacos, and a table lined with hot woks tossing together Asian concoctions.

Walking among the stalls were some of the best examples of what’s referred to as the “London Look” I’ve come across in such high concentration. A girl with sunglasses so big I couldn’t tell if she was actually pretty or not, strode from one vintage clothing shop to the next in her black leather pants, cape, and large black floppy hat.  Cut-off denim shorts worn over thick tights abounded, as did men with waxed moustaches and suspenders.

Part of the fashion parade

I bought some wild garlic or ramps as they are otherwise known and a couple of venison steaks that came from the highlands of Scotland.  At Violet’s stall I bought a Salted Caramel Cupcake which I downed in about 30 seconds and then as we were leaving, I decided I just had to give the Bratwurst which were filling the air with a divine aroma a try, for the sake of my readers, of course (the bratwurst was good but skip the sauerkraut).  So, you can actually get some food shopping accomplished, eat one (or three) tasty meals, and check out what new vintage pieces the many shops lining the market have to offer.

The rain held off and we walked towards the tube feeling quite pleased with our discovery, but then it all got a little strange.  We came across Hackney City Farm right off the busy Hackney Road.  You can walk straight off the street and into a farm yard full of pens holding lambs, goats, piglets, roosters, donkeys! Off to one side there is a large vegetable garden and inside the farm buildings they offer pottery classes, birthday parties and a variety of kids’ educational programs.  It’s quite bizarre, but also quite wonderful – sort of like East London itself.

The good life at Hackney City Farm

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