Well, kt had to be done and yesterday was my official day for Christmas shopping. Not presents mind you (never a traditional strong point with me), nor cards (ooops!), but food. Unlike many people, but like so many other people, I head towards the markets in order to get food. The veggies were already sorted out (plenty of greens, sprouts and carrots were ready, along with potatoes) so it came down to buying the real food.
English cuisine has a tradition of culinary awfulness. And tp be blunt, yes, English food is bad, but with good reason. Most of it is tinned, and so the taste is zapped out of the creative process. However, London (thanks to its ethnic diversity as well as traditional centre for trade) has always had exceptional range of food stuffs. To truly appreciate the variety of foodstuffs available, the punter must venture away from the bland aisles of the supermarkets and into the areas frequented by dodgy film makers and poor bus drivers. Peckham, Upton Park, Dalston, Acton, Walthomstow, Wembley, Harrow and my particular spot, Brixton.
Britxton is close enough to me to make driving not a pain in the backside. And with the amount of food available, I need a car. The populace is one that appreciates food over anything else. Caribbeans being the most visible, but also the West Africans, the Indians and the Latin Americans. The traders themselves are from all over the world and so the mix of sustained demand plus exotic supply means that the food on offer is second to none in quality. Plus the speed at which food is being traded shows that firstly, there is no credit crunch when it comes to feeding and secondly, the food sold is going to be fresher. Quickly moving food, while riotous, has little chance of sitting in one place and slowly rotting away.
Shopping in any of these places requires a thick skin, a knowledge of the food being bought and cash. No cards are accepted here, but it is very easy to dispose of (real) £50 notes (don't try counterfeits, they will be spotted). You are going to get jostled, you are going to get screamed at and you are going to go home with more than you can cope. After all, these places are designed for families. Big broods. You can also haggle a little bit, especially when spending big. The haggle is friendly, not aggressive, more like 'Give me a good price Boss,' rather than 'It's a fiver and that's final!' Make sure you are not squeamish. Fresh turkeys (still feathered with the heads and claws attached) hang from the ceilings of the butchers. Trotters and tripe are everywhere. Fish is not some filleted piece of salmon in a polystyrene packet but the real stuff (remember, Mackerel is considered dog food in Seychelles) and the vegetables are positively funky.
As a foodie I enjoy shopping in Brixton. I can plan out menus seemingly exotic but for me, positively tasty. New kinds of fish, solid portions of meat and a palate for the spicy makes Brixton a delight in my eyes. Thankfully I know what to do with Breadfruit (anything), Chow-Chow (good with tomatoes in a broth) and Durian (just eat it, but make sure the place is well ventilated).
So, while I look forward to a traditionally tasty Christmas, it will be filled not with calorie counting guilt but with the joy of exploring the range of delights that are now currently stocked up in my kitchen. Good hunting!
Salt Fish may be an acquired taste, but for some sick reason, I absolutely love the stuff.