London, at least central London, may not be the place you associate with outdoor food markets. It wasn’t always this way. London has been an important trading centre since Roman times, but the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed a huge swathe of the city within the walls, and the subsequent rebuilding led to the relocation of many neighbourhood markets. Come the industrial age, urban space needed for increased traffic and public transport infrastructure caused them to disappear all togetherOne fantastic survivor from of the days of barrow boys and pearly queens is the Berwick Street market in Soho, one of the city’s most happening neighbourhoods. Surrounded by architect and design studios and cutting edge shops and restaurants, a group of about 40 costermongers (or street vendors) set up their pitches daily from around 8am. The Berwick street market is best known for its fruits and vegetables. It was the first market in Britain to sell tomatoes, which arrived from the New World in 1890, and today its merchandise reflects the multicultural character of the neighbourhood, with custard apples, figs, fresh herbs and kakis being sold beside ‘British’ peas, spring potatoes and strawberries. You will also find freshly cut flowers and fish, which you may like to pick up to make a classic English fish pie. If you go late in the afternoon, or ‘knocking out’ time, you’ll find the sellers at their most animated, offering to “fill your bags with bananas” or “two bowls of lovely cherries for 50p luv’. Many of the mongers will befuddle you with their colourful cockney banter, making your trip to the Berwick Street market all the more memorable.
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