Tuesday, 4 May 2010

London Snapshot: Broadway Market

Although I've been in London for five years, and lived on the East side of London for three of them, I have only just been to Broadway market for the first time. Shame on me, I know, because anyone who knows East London is as familiar with this place as an old friend. Admittedly it's not the easiest place to get to - you're better off by bicycle - as the nearest Tube stop is a decent 15 min walk away, but this makes it a safe haven from hoards of tourists. It's practically the anti-Portobello road. Broadway market is jammed with locals and regulars doing their weekend shop and meeting friends. It has a fantastic atmosphere, avoiding the usual pretentiousness of other markets.


For me at least, the question in the forefront of my mind is always, "What can I eat?" I arrived at Broadway market hungry, and ready to treat myself. (Hell, I'd earned it).

There was such a tantalising selection of food stalls, and the prices are much more reasonable than I would ever have expected. After browsing the Jamaican hot pots, the vegan curries, the homemade pies, the burgers, the cheeses, pestos, olive oils... and many other mouth-watering delights, I settled on a classic falafel wrap, which at £3.50 was better than you could ask at your standard chain cafes, and unquestionably greater!

Whoops, but I'm allowed dessert too, right? It's been a tough week... and it's hey, it's Saturday! Again, there were plenty of sweets to take your pick of. Everything seemed to have its own eclectic style - one stall had heart-shaped chocolate tarts with intricate birds stencilled on the top, while another stall had owls made out of shortbread, with almonds for beaks. Frankly, I am amazed I managed to resist most of these things. I had definitely earned some sort of reward....

My friend had recommended Violet's cupcake stall. While I do love cupcakes, I feel that since London was first hit with cupcake fever, it's all got a little out of hand. And I was also tempted by a dark chocolate brownie I had sampled a few stalls down...
But in the end I was won over by Violet's cupcakes - solely because they make them in miniature. It's the perfect size! For 80p it was impossible to say no, and the flavours were refreshingly offbeat. I chose a "rhubarb and rosewater", with pale pink frosting, and while I couldn't say it tasted wildly like rhubarb (or rosewater for that matter) I do know it was very good. (So I got another one).

One to note.....
One of the most iconic food stores on Broadway is Fred Cooke's jellied eels shop. Apparently Fred was selling these gelatinous delicacies on Broadway Market as far back as 1900, and then opened the cafe you see today. I imagine this place has seen a hell of a lot - oh if the walls could talk! From hungry shepherds stopping in for a bite while bringing their flocks through the City of London, to facing the risk of bombs and world wars, it's been around a bit. Fred Cooke’s grandson, Bob, is now in charge, keeping the jellied eel tradition alive. I don't care much for the fare myself, but am glad it's here.


With appetites satiated, it's nice to walk about and peruse! This is East London, which means you can find your fair share of the creative and the edgy: old records, photography books and art.

Personally, I love old stuff. I enjoy the nostalgia of old things. The romance. The idea that in the "olden days" life was slower and more care was taken in everything that was made, done, said... call me old-fashioned (ha!) but I love that concept. It's why I love markets in the first place.

There are plenty of old things to be bought at Broadway market, including vintage. There was an especially good second-hand clothing stall there, and I even managed to find
shoes in my size! Yep, they were second-hand shoes. But they were £5.

Whether they really were vintage or not, they are very old fashioned and they were orange. I had to have them.

Wandering around there was a lot to browse: a fabric store with long rolls of gorgeous silks and floral cottons along its walls, and jars of buttons in the window; crates of fresh flowers; new jewellery made from old watches; handmade soaps and hand lotions; fancy hats; pet accessories; children's clothes; and bicycles. (I even bumped into a friend of mine there, selling her own bicycle which was bought in an instant). I realised later that what was absent here, in comparison with other London markets, was the usual collections of London souvenirs and Union-Jack trinkets catering to tourists. It felt remarkably refreshing.

One to note.....
I am not a sweet tooth (*cough* apart from the occasional mini-cupcake *cough*) and I would almost never eat sweets these days. (My dentist has seen enough of me in my lifetime as it is, and sugar gives me a headache!)
But like I said before, I love old-fashioned things, and there are few places more fun than an old-fashioned sweet shop. London has a few of these around, and Brewode's Cornucopia is one of them. Nostalgia overload! The colours! The jars! The memories of childhood sugar-highs! The disbelief that so much pocket money was spent on this stuff back in the day!

I popped in there with a couple of friends and was kindly bought some popping candy, which I hadn't had since I was a kid. Standing out in the market, it was one-two-three and the whole packet goes in the mouth! I felt like I was 10 years old all over again... amazing what exploding sugar crystals can do.

More from Broadway Market:

There are plenty of other highlights. The Cat & Mutton pub is cool, although I think The Dove is even better, with a fantastic selection of foreign beers and ciders. There are some excellent cafes and many other shops and stalls not even mentioned here. Basically, if you ever get a chance to visit on a Saturday, I'd recommend spending the whole day there. It's a great little slice of London.

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