06 November, 2008
my beloved skeevy market
I know: it doesn't look like much. I was tempted to wait for a sunny day to make it appear at least marginally appealing, but I might as well wait for a rabbit to come down my chimney. This is London, after all, where we, like the Eskimos and snow, have at least 200 ways to describe "grey."
But my point is not the aesthetic, but rather the gastronomic pleasures of Shepherd's Bush Market. Someday I will discover why my neighborhood has such a funny name: it has either a bucolic or ecclesiastical origin, I'm sure, or just a city planner with a sense of humor. In any case, when I first moved here all the neighbors waxed lyrical about "the market" and I hightailed it there right away. To find... squalor. A bit. Pavements littered with scraps of rotted fruit and veg, shoppers routinely slapping their children, who never seem to mind, piles of baseball hats for sale alongside rayon underwear of every description. But I persevered. And what you really must do is judge the inside of the market by the very first fruit stand. Solid, bright red peppers, British sweetcorn on the cob, unwrapped, beautiful cauliflower, you name it. And I am a sucker for endearments from veg guys, so being given my change along with "my darling" or "my love" warms my heart.
Venture into the market and you will shortly come to a very mingy, temporary looking fish stall, but do not be fooled: these ladies know their sea bream from their plaice and can fillet a whole salmon faster than you can give them your recipe for a Marsala-creme fraiche sauce for it. I once bought two dozen scallops in the shell from them, for which I had to place an order a week in advance, and I was nearly rendered senseless by the disgusting chore that is cleaning a live scallop. But the freshness overwhelmed me. Always in their freezer are enormous frozen raw prawns in the shell for your Thai prawns (scroll down, my patient readers). And here are two fun facts: their stall must close every night, so all the fish is completely fresh EVERY day. And, there is no fishing on Sunday, so guess what? No fish stall on Monday.
Further into the market you'll find many more fruit and veg stalls, so be patient if the first two don't have your cilantro. And there are several halal butchers for your chicken fillets (can you tell I'm making my biryani this afternoon?). Just please, don't do as I did when I first arrived in Shepherd's Bush and encountered my first halal butcher. Do not go in, look around, and then ask, "No pork chops today?" I am lucky I got a butcher with a sense of humor. "No pork chops ANY day, my love, we are Muslim." For god's sake, you'd think I just got off the boat, from some very ignorant place.
There are countless little spicy-smelling shops where you can buy your basmati rice (in 20 kilo bags, if you prefer), your Greek yoghurt and your olive oil. But you must ask for the saffron at the till, because it's kept under lock and key and sold in 100g increments. I LOVE that. You feel you're getting a secret stash.
It must be said that along with all your food-shopping needs you may also assuage your desire for a genuine cubic zirconia tiara, a baseball cap with the American eagle emblazoned on it, a plastic rolling pin decorated with turtles and frogs, the best falafel wrap you have ever had, fingernail varnish (five for a quid), fake flowers in funereal arrangements, and wedding dresses. Something for everyone.
I am feeling particularly bloggy today because I had the nicest, most unexpected encounter in my local cafe with two blokes who have inspired me to ever further journalistic heights. I sat down at one of the communal tables and ordered a latte and then overheard the two guys sitting opposite one another discussing the turnout in our recent election. "You know, it was right around 64%," one said, "which is pretty much unheard of." I couldn't stop myself. "Which is really pathetic, when you think about it, what was the other 36% doing?" And they didn't mind at all letting me in on their conversation, which rapidly turned to telling me a bit about their professions: a rather political/documetary-ish writer one, and a comedy writer for radio the other. Writers! Wasn't I just singing their praises? We discussed the election, the state of BBC funding and firings, the politics of hunting (whether foxes or pheasants), and finally, food. I told them about my blog and invited them, and I got a lot of invective against the situation that made me go private. "There's a story for the technology section somewhere," Chris thought. Maybe when Avery goes to college. The morals of blogging and how much of a conversation or experience is yours to blog? Don't know the answer to that.
I rationalised sitting there for ages chatting with these two lovely young men as... research. There is a particular energy about talking to writers, and on my walk home I analysed what it is, and came up with: curiosity. They are endlessly curious, looking for a story, for a character, for an anecdote, a relationship between ideas. My cafe is full of them and I felt I should go and sit there more often, rather than hunching over my desk with a cup of tea by myself.
Right, must go cook, and then swim. I've been so good lately about fitness, with tennis and swimming, that I feel completely justified in an extra helping of biryani, with my writing friends, tomorrow.