Matt Linenbroker is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2015, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A journalism and English major at the University of Missouri - School of Journalism, he is studying abroad in London this semester.
In his post below, Matt shares his thoughts on a recent visit to London's famous Borough Market.
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On lazy Saturday afternoons, my father and I claim our familiar seats on adjacent couches and unwind into the weekend. He reads the St. Louis Post-Dispatch while I religiously check my social media or lose myself in a book. Occasionally, however, usually over lunch time, our television finds its way to the Travel Channel and we stare fascinated at the lives of those who live in an entirely different culture.
Or, you know, watch people eat worms and stuff. We enjoy the bizarre, cultural food shows.
My father is a humble man of the barbecue, and I suppose that’s where his interest in this comes from. Just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, on Saturday nights, my father barbecues. If there’s a torrential summer rainstorm, he will seer his meat from the open garage, and yes, if there is six inches of snow on the ground and the wind is fiercely howling, he will bundle up and trek outside, tongs in hand, like a soldier going to war in Siberia. It’s this type of dedication that has gotten me to expand my taste in food. Once upon a time I would only eat hot dogs and chicken breasts from his grill, but due to twenty-years of his persistent nudging, I now I eat his superb wings, thin pork chops, and sticky bacon-wrapped scallops.
I seem to have an exploratory heart with a simple-minded tongue. I ooh and aah with my dad as the indigenous people of some far-off place crack the shells of beetles and ingest their insides, but were I truly faced with a plate of beetle, I would likely pass on the bug guts (my dad, however, would probably strap on a bib and search for a fork).
My favorite part of these shows is when the celebrity chef or travel writer walks through the foreign market and the camera pans to people yelling in their native language and crowding around tanks of live Croctapi (rare, gourmet crocodile-octopus hybrids that are extremely dangerous, probably poisonous, but definitely delicious, sure, sure, whatever you say)*. After watching copious amounts of scenes like these on Saturday afternoons, I can testify that each foreign market seems to truly immerse the host in the culture they’re visiting. Scorpions on skewers, fruit juice in plastic baggies, bowls of native stews, yes, I like to think you can see it in their eyes - they’re not in Los Angeles anymore.
Last Saturday afternoon, I got to enter the world I once merely watched on television.
When I walked through the green wooden archways of Borough Market, I was assaulted by smells from every angle. Cheese! Doughnuts! Pasta! Burgers! Doughnuts! Salami! Did I mention doughnuts?!
Like its siblings Camden Market, Brick Lane, and Portobello Road, Borough Market erupts on the weekends. Londoners and tourists alike flock to the Central London foodtopia for everything from fresh vegetables to fresh oysters. It’s also a bit like an outdoor Sam’s Club or Costco, because you can walk through and create an entire meal just from free samples.
I knew I needed to stretch my taste buds, but when I came across versions of delicious food I already enjoyed, well, why deny myself?
Also because doughnuts. Sticky, sugary, artisanal doughnuts. I enjoyed a simple chocolate filled one, but CAPA student and fellow doughnut-lover Emily Bathe chose one with a honeycomb filling. She offered me a bite, and when I inevitably visit this master pastry craftsman again, I’ll likely choose this not-too-sweet, mildly-buttery honeycomb option instead.
There are even new doughnut flavors to enjoy! Who knew?
After my sweet treat, we wandered the labyrinth in search for something else. When visiting Borough Market, you have to act a bit like Scooby-Doo, nose to the ground, searching for whatever may lead you to your next Scooby Snack. And it can be a bit disorienting, as the market is a bustling, loud place full of people rushing past, clasping their food tightly. Each alley offers a new promise of something both familiar and unknown, the classic briney-lemon tang of fish and chips mixes in the air with the scent of grilled peppers or freshly cut sausage.
What I put in my body next had a familiar smell but an unfamiliar taste. Wheatgrass smells, well, like grass. It was clipped by a bearded hipster right before my eyes, and then stuffed into a grinder that produced a ruffagey green juice. There were several stands throughout the market that offered juices like this, and, feeling like a posh, pretentious health freak, I chose to partake. As a handy-sign explained, wheatgrass does have a lot of benefits, and I’d been coming down with a bit of a cold, so maybe it would cure it (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
Honestly, it tasted how I expected it to taste - like grass. Like sweet, apple-and-pear accented grass, but grass nonetheless. That being said, it wasn’t bad grass. Just grass, and grass wasn’t my favorite flavor. The clumpy texture scratched at my throat as it went down, creating a subtle burn that said, “You’re doing something healthy, you’re not supposed to enjoy it.”
I probably won’t be getting wheatgrass shots in my Jamba Juice when I return to the states, but, hey, you can’t win ‘em all.
But it was still a win, because while most of the food is delicious (after the smoothie, I queued for a heavenly-smelling burger grill and feasted on a white cheddar cheeseburger), Borough Market is more of a cultural experience than it is a culinary one. It’s a fantastic place for people watching, seeing locals do fast-paced grocery shopping as travellers cling tightly to their edible treasures. The food stand workers bicker at each other from behind their selections, and then eat at each other’s shops. You find yourself drowning in the constant roar of English accents and, with doughnut, smoothie, or burger in hand, your eyes slowly widen and you realize - you’re not in St. Louis anymore.
*Croctapi are not real. Please do not show up to a London market and ask around for Croctapi, as you won’t find them. Also, be thankful that Crocatpi aren’t real, because they would undoubtedly bring upon a horrifying aquatic, eight-legged apocalypse, and we’d all have to get saws for hands like Tara Reid in Sharknado 2: The Second One just to fight back. And let’s be honest, no one wants that, not even Tara Reid.
Matt’s journey continues every Friday so stay tuned!