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Mind the Gap

A grand tour of Marketplace(s) in London

Marketplace Contributor May 23, 2014

While the Marketplace Morning Report team visited London to broadcast from the BBC this week, we’ve featured audio postcards in and around the city’s many neighborhoods. 

We also enlisted our BBC colleague and producer Marie Keyworth to serve as our guide on the city’s vast and popular markets, traveling to Smithfield Market, a popular meat market, to Portobello Road where antiques and other goods are sold. At each stop she helped us gather snippets of people selling foods and other goods.

We asked Marie to give us an overview of London markets, and her recommendations:

There are more markets than you can shake a stick at in London.  It’s impossible to suggest to a visitor which is ‘the’ market to go to. The conversation can quickly become a long exposition, listing the various, unique, and equally interesting options available. A London market is always a true sensory experience – it just depends which one you want.

If buying meat at 3:00 am from friendly foul-mouthed traders is your thing, then head to Smithfield Market in Farringdon.  It’s Europe’s largest meat market, and it’s been around since 1868. It’s the coal-face of the food industry in London, where restauranteurs and caterers of all shapes and sizes come to buy their meat each day. But members of the public are welcome to buy on a smaller scale, if you’re not put off by the odd trader in a bloody-splattered white suit, or rows of dead piglets lined up in a fridge as if they are just sleeping.

For those who want a more rarefied atmosphere, with a touch of Hollywood glamour, a twenty minute tube ride across town gets you to Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Road market. The area was brought into public consciousness with the help of the film ‘Notting Hill’ in which Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts fell in love in a house just a stone’s throw from the market itself. Head to Portobello Road on a Saturday and you won’t be able to move for antique dealers, jewelry makers, and general purveyors of bizarre curiosities you never knew you needed.

Glamour is in short supply in Brixton market, which is south of the river and well out of London’s centre. Here you shop with the locals – the ordinary people picking up groceries sourced from all over the world. I dare say you’ll never see so many yams in one place anywhere else in London. The area’s multicultural residents hailing from the likes of Portugal, Afghanistan, and the Caribbean, make this market a down-to-earth melting pot.  But the traders say the place is changing. Brixton market is getting quieter, as steady gentrification attracts more and more young professionals to the area. These people prefer to brunch and lunch in the champagne bars and gluten free cafes of the covered Brixton Village complex next door. This, too, is a hub of independent traders, but as the population of Brixton changes, the markets there evolve to suit their more ‘moneyed’ needs.

Check out Marketplace’s full set of stories about London culture, life, and economics on the Mind the Gap series homepage

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