Global meets Local in London

(Published in Hindustan Times Next)

London’s characteristic local markets are a delight for the senses and once can pick a good bargain too.

Talking of London as a shopping destination, one usually conjures up images of high street fashion brands and supermarkets. Truly, from designer labels in clothing to global shopping chains, London offers top class retail experience. As a complete parallel to this high street life, London also boasts of its rich and very characteristic local markets that offer a rather delightful shopping experience.

The oldest and most famous of all is the London Borough market. This food market is one of London’s largest and is always bustling with traders and buyers. Imagine seemingly endless rows of stalls selling fresh vegetables, food from all over the world, cooked snacks and the likes. I was amazed to discover just the vast varieties of cheese that were on sale at the Borough market. Sellers are more than willing to let people taste their samples before buying. This market is quite popular with tourists as well and it’s common to find people moving around with their cameras clicking pictures.

Then there are other local markets famous for selling antiques. The Portobello road antiques and flea market is one such place where you can find rare maps, old books, crazy posters and other such stuff. While strolling through this street market I once came across the entire works of Shakespeare. I also found some very old world maps which were quite expensive at about 70 pounds each. Even though I did not actually buy a lot of stuff, the experience made my trip worthwhile.

Even more local than the Borough or Portobello markets are London farmers’ markets. More popular with local residents, these weekly markets are held across different suburbs of London. Here, you not only find just vegetables or fruits but also cooked local foods, flowers and bakery products made by local artisans. Sellers lay out their stuff on stalls giving the markets a very fair-like feel. You may find local music artistes singing along or playing an instrument in the background as is common here. The ambiance feels festive with the smell of fresh food and cheese combined with the pleasant sights and sounds.

An interesting aspect of these farmers’ markets is that the items sold here are grown within 100 miles of London and that their sellers are also the producers. This eliminates the role of middlemen and the produce is fresh. You can also look forward to hearing exciting stories about farmers’ experiences such as how some of them start rearing turkeys in June to get them ready by Christmas or how farmers brave the snow in bringing their produce to the market.

I find it amazing how London has a place for both global and the local. Next time you visit London, watch out for the city’s local markets that will make for a memorable experience irrespective of whether you actually buy something or not.

april 2013

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