The sun. When talked about in relation to England, most of the world would assume you’re talking about the tabloid and not the giant ball of burning gas in the sky, because we all know that this country never sees the sun.
If there is one fairly constant belief about the UK, and London in particular, it is that the weather is constantly terrible. Grey and rainy is how the city is pictured, with dour black umbrellas eternally held above every head. Sunshine couldn’t be further from anyone’s imagination.
However, no one seems to have told London this.
In recent weeks the spring weather here has been glorious. Blue skies have graced us daily, with warmth from the sun licking our skin. It has been weather for being outside, for picnics in the park or long walks through leafy streets. And, for me, it has been ideal for hitting up the markets.
London does markets well, which is good as they also do them a lot. From the permanent mega-bazaars like Camden, through to suburban four-tent farmers markets, there is a style to suit every taste.
For me, though, it is the smaller street food markets that most entice. I’m not really talking about the really slick ones, where all the big-name street sellers hock bite sized restaurant food to trendy people in scarves in some inner-east courtyard, although those do have their charm. Rather, I’m talking the more neighbourhood version of these, where the food of the world is served from rickety little tents.
At these markets, the owners are less likely to be professionally trained, and aren’t just jumping on the latest street food trend. Yes, you’ll probably find a burger or two, but they’ll be nestled beside someone selling a traditional Malay curry, or proper Polish sausage with rich cabbage accompaniments. The people selling them will most likely from Malaysia and Poland, as well.
This is food learnt in home kitchens, made exotic by the fact that they aren’t cooked in our homes. You can travel the world in a carpark, all under a warm sun. Is there a better way to spend a spring Sunday afternoon?
On a recent Sunday wander through Notting Hill I wandered past the antiques of Portobello Road, and posted on various poles down the street were printed A4 sheets of paper. These pointed further down the road with three words: Acklam Village Market.
I walked further with no expectations, and found a huge, slightly ratty looking banner, under which was a slightly ratty looking market. An old caravan was selling wine from a big bowl of ice as soon as you walked in, followed by a winding maze of stalls. Wafting from every stall were wonderful spicy, sweet aromas, mixing together in the air.
There were Thai salads, Cuban desserts, Argentinean empanadas, Moroccan tagines and more. I went to the Venezuelan stall, Guasacaca, where the t-shirts reading “Keep Calm and Eat Arepas” proved to be good advice. Arepas are disc shaped pieces of cornbread, cooked on the grill before being split and filled. Taking the recommendation of the server, mine was filled with tender pork, black beans and cheese, topped with a sweet avocado sauce.
It was warm and messy and delicious, exactly what street food should be. Eaten in the makeshift market bar, with a glass of Pimms cup and some live music in the background, it was a delightful experience.
Places like Acklam Village Market exist across this city, and they deserve to be packed for as long as the weather holds.
Sadly, as I write this a mere week after that visit, rain is bucketing down outside. Today, the stereotype holds, so the markets may be a little less well attended. But I have faith that on a day soon those black umbrellas will be put away, and the London sun will throw out those expectations once again.
And when it does, another arepa might be in order.