For those of you who know anything about the way Natalie and I travel, you know that food forms a huge part of our experience. Our lists of “attractions” to visit in new places often contain as many restaurants, cafes, cheese shops, ice cream stands, and markets as it does museums, monuments, and churches. In fact, we often lament that one of the great problems we have when traveling is not that we don’t have enough time to try all the foods we’d like, but that we simply don’t have enough space in our stomachs to eat everything. London, being one of the great international cities of the world, is a food lover’s paradise, containing everything under the sun. Spain, on the other hand, is full of delicious Spanish food, but the pickings are a bit thin if you want anything else. Therefore, when we wanted lunch the first day we headed straight to Chinatown for dim sum followed by bubble tea and a trip to the Asian grocery store to pick up snacks. We then followed this up by partaking in the national dish of England for dinner with Ron and Betty. I am, of course, speaking of curry, which we enjoyed while watching the first few episodes of Downton Abbey (if you like period pieces and Maggie Smith being sassy you should definitely tune in; it airs on PBS in the States).
Our greatest and most successful culinary adventure was without a doubt Borough Market where we went with Caitlin and Matt and later returned another day by ourselves. Now Borough Market is not a market in the conventional sense of a place to buy fruits, vegetables, and meat. Although there is some of that, the real focus is on the market’s collection of a couple dozen food stands serving everything from British classics like steak and kidney pies and fish and chips to Thai curries. One of my favorite snacks there was raclette, a Swiss dish that consists of melted cheese scraped served over vegetables. To make it, the cook takes a block of cheese, places it under a blowtorch-like broiling contraption, and then after a few minutes scrapes the top layer, by this time melted, onto a plate of potatoes and pickles. Watching the man at the stand prepare the raclette was especially impressive since he managed to do it while battling 30 mph gusts of wind that forced him to hold onto the pole of his tent to keep it from blowing away while also relighting the blowtorch every time it got blown out. We also tried Thai fish curry which was prepared in 3-4 foot diameter pans a bit reminiscent of a very large paella pans in Spain and had an amazing pulled duck sandwich which must be shared with at least one other person to avoid duck fat induced illness.
And of course, that’s only the stuff we paid for. As with any market worth its salt, there were free samples galore, so we stuffed ourselves with all manner of jams, cheeses (favorites: cheddar and a hard goat cheese coated in pepper), cookies, and Turkish delight (good, but not so good that I’d sell out my siblings for it. Edmund’s a bit of a chump I think).
Perhaps our most unexpected success came the night we went out for Mexican food with Matt and Caitlin at a place called Wahaca. Natalie and I had seen the restaurant mentioned in a brochure and were initially skeptical given that we’ve had a hard time finding good (or really any) Mexican food in Europe and the name of the restaurant was blatantly misspelled. Luckily, our fears were quickly put to rest by the what was, by any standard, excellent Mexican food. I think the moment that my misgivings vanished completely was when I saw the huitlacoche quesadillas on the menu. Now for those of you who’ve never heard of it, huitlacoche is a type of corn fungus (according to Wikipedia, corn smut but that sounds like something else entirely) that’s black and has a rich, earthy flavor to it. While the idea of eating corn fungus might not sound particularly appealing, remember that mushrooms are also a fungus and they’re still delicious (the menu actually translated the word as corn mushroom, probably to avoid scaring people off). In addition to our huitlacoche quesadillas, we also had horchata (Mexican horchata, not the Spanish kind, they’re completely different) and Matt tried it for the first time, motivated by the fact that he’d heard of it from the Vampire Weekend song of the same name.
Of course, I can’t finish this post without making reference to the various British foods we tried while we were there. Natalie and I continued with the habit of we’d developed in Ireland and Scotland of drinking alarming amounts of tea each day and enjoyed such delightful treats as jellied fruits (fruit gummies, but much better than any I’ve had at home, just be sure to buy the Marks and Spencer brand) and scones. Unfortunately (and I mean this seriously) we missed out on the marmite which I regret because I’ve never tried it before. We did, however, get to have a full breakfast with Ron and Betty at one of their favorite spots. It’s something I’ve always found immensely comforting and satisfying when I’d had it before in Ireland, even if I’m still not completely sold on baked beans as a breakfast food. I think that food-wise London has been our most successful trip yet–I say this with several months of hindsight and continued traveling behind me–and I’d love to visit again someday to see what we missed our first time around.