Perfect London Morning

The English have traditionally taken a lot of grief about their cooking. Too bland, soft, mooshy, overcooked and pretty much just meat and potatoes are the usual criticisms. I mean really, with dishes named bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, mushy peas and baps, how can anyone take such a cuisine seriously?

I’m not going to argue the virtues or curses of English cooking here. But I will attest in no uncertain terms that the solid foundations of good cooking can be easily found; just head off to the Borough Market, a stone’s throw away from the famous Tower Bridge in London. Even after eight years surrounded by my Parisian open air markets, the Borough Market is still a wonder. All the ingredients of good cooking — and all styles — can be found under this huge glass roof.

borough_market

I try to plan every trip to London to include a Saturday. That’s when the market is humming at its best. The sounds of sizzling grills and the aromas of cooking sausages and game streaks fill the crisp morning air. The fresh fall harvest is stacked high with their seasonal blazing colors drawing you closer. Piles of mushrooms of all kinds line the display tables. Even in Paris, it’s rare to see such a diverse display of fungi.

borough_market_fungi

After a few years and many visits, I’ve slipped into a routine for my Saturday visits to the market, what I call my Perfect London Morning. I first wander over to the organic juice bar (there are two now at the market) where I’ll order either a fresh made-right-there-in-front-of-you combo of apple and carrot juice with a zinger of fresh ginger. If I’m feeling particularly wild I’ll add a shot of wheat grass (yes, I DO live on the edge at times). Then, depending on how I feel, I’ll either order up a venison sausage sandwich with grilled onions and English mustard or I’ll wander over to chat with Ian at Mrs. Kings Pies, where I’ll choose a pork and Stilton pie or a mixed game pie.

As I munch, I’ll meander through the aisles and look at all the food stands. There are vendors offering ostrich steaks, hand-made olive oils, fresh breads and pastries, chocolates, truffles and truffle oil, haggis and black pudding, French cheeses, sea salts, falafels, fresh spices, beers and wines from around the world, fresh fish, and of course refrigerated cases of fresh game and the ubiquitous English sausages. Many of the meat stands have grills already fired up so you can sample a sandwich of, say, a wild boar sausage, piled with onions and lettuce. This is not your everyday sausage McMuffin.

borough_market_meat

Just across from the market is the famous Neal’s Yard shop of English cheeses where wheels of Stilton and cheddars are stacked high on shelves. I defy anyone who walks into the shop with its heady, tangy aroma of aging cheese to walk out empty-handed.

My breakfast ends with a cup of fresh filtered coffee at Monmouth next to Neal’s Yard. They have beans from around the world that can be bought to take home as well.

As with any art form, the hands of a real artist can make something from almost anything. But it’s good to start with the best materials, whether it’s carefully ground paints, a good piece of marble, a finely crafted guitar or, in this case, fresh vegetables and good meats and fish. The Borough Market offers everything a good cook needs as a starting point to create memorable meals.

In the hands of the right chef, even bangers and mash can be haute cuisine. Blimey!

Doug Cushman is a former Redding artist and author who lives and works in Paris. He was born in Springfield,Ohio,and moved to Connecticut with his family at the age of 15. In high school he created comic books lampooning his teachers, selling them to his classmates for a nickel apiece. Since 1978, he has illustrated and/or written more than 100 books for children and collected a number of honors, including a Reuben Award for Book Illustration from the National Cartoonists Society, New York Times Children’s Books Best Sellers, and the New York Public Library’s Best 100 Books of 2000. He enjoys hiking, kayaking and cooking (and eating!). Learn more at his website, doug-cushman.com.

Doug Cushman
Doug Cushman is a former Redding artist/author who now lives and works in Paris. He was born in Springfield, Ohio, and moved to Connecticut with his family at the age of 15. In high school he created comic books lampooning his teachers, selling them to his classmates for a nickel apiece. For more information about his books or to contact him, visit doug-cushman.com.
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5 Responses

  1. Avatar jacki g. says:

    Once again, a marvelous, vicarious experience courtesy of Doug Cushman! Thanks so much! Always good photos, too.

  2. Avatar Judy Menzel says:

    M-m-m-m… Sounds wonderful! English cuisine has become fantastic over the years and I'm not totally surprised at what this market carries. Head out to the country pubs and see how many of their chefs have received Michelin stars for their wonderful dishes. That's not to say the traditional foods are bad either. Nothing like a Sunday roast to make you feel wonderfully plumptious!

  3. Avatar June Trsk says:

    A former Californian who used Gourmet and Julia Child as my first cookbooks, I now live in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, about 30 min. south of Bath and a little less than 2 hrs from London. But most times, I find all the bounty I need when I'm cooking at our local market and the Wells market (every Wed). There too sausages sizzle, cheeses and olive oils can be tasted, fresh breads, Indian food and fresh local produce abound. Also in Wells a Michelin star chef and his French wife run an amazing fish restaurant, brasserie and patisserie called Goodfellows. In my eight years living here, I've found such inventive and good food in pubs, gastro or not, and little restaurants in small villages. England has matured in using what's available locally (watch those food miles) to change its bangers and mash image!

    • Avatar Doug says:

      Sadly, I haven't had much of a chance to get out into the English countryside so my experience with village cuisine is limited; though I did get to a great hotel in Buford (in the Cotswold area) that served some otstanding food. Around the corner was a real tea shop with the best clotted cream and scones I've ever had. Ah well! So much food, so little time! I may pick your brain later, June, for a future trip! Thanks for your comments.

  4. Avatar June Trask says:

    Please do! I've covered some good restaurants and food – Kent, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Oxford and western Scotland…as well as Somerset.

    We're headed to Correze in July for a stay at a B&B of a friend of ours…

    Thanks Doug!

    June