Cooking is about much more than a recipe and a stock of ingredients in the house. I’m the kind of person who likes to shop for groceries and food, and the more options, the better. You can sometimes find me agonizing over the perfect lemons or the biggest head of garlic.
One of my favorite places to shop for those ingredients in London probably isn’t the first place people would expect. Maltby Street market has great food to snack on and speciality items to take home, Borough Market is the foodie’s paradise in London, and North End Road is the place for those who like an old-fashioned working class London experience.
However, my personal favorite has to be Brixton Market. Brixton has everything from measure-your-own spices to the freshest shrimp, with the cheapest vegetables and some of London’s best Neopolitan-style pizza in between.
Recently I introduced a good friend and fellow blogger, Natalia, to the joys of Brixton market. We wandered between market arcades, visited shops, stopped at a few stalls and took lots of photos along the way. Check out her blog post about our day on her blog Nat w Londynie (note: it’s in Polish)
I got to spend a little time being a London Tour Guide (which doesn’t happen very often… the accent probably puts people off) in this slightly off-the-beaten-path neighborhood that isn’t actually very far from Central London. As I write this, I again have the Eddy Grant song “Electric Avenue” in my head, which was written about Brixton’s Electric Avenue, the first market street in London to be lit by electricity.
We picked up quite a few things, like shrimp at Jeffries Fish Market, inside Market Row, across from Franco Manca, where you can get some of London’s best pizza. I love Jeffries (and Franco Manca, for that matter). The seafood is affordable, with a great (fresh!) selection and the nicest people. I would go out of the way for their shrimp – the best I’ve had in London, by far.
Plus there’s Nour Cash & Carry, a wholesale, cash-only store where you can buy all sorts of bulk foods, cheap (so cheap!) fresh vegetables and herbs and some really interesting, unusual things. Definitely not the kind of stock you can find at the local Tesco.
Lots of meals have come from my purchases in Brixton, but this one is symbolic of a day roaming between market arcades and local stores in Brixton.
Polenta with Shrimp and Tomato Sauce
On the Counter
2 cups (340 g) coarse-ground corn meal (polenta)
8 cups (2 liters) water
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
tomato and shrimp:
1.5 lbs (700 g) fresh shrimp (prawns), peeled
1 can peeled plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 cup (100 g) fresh or frozen shelled peas
crumbled feta to garnish
fresh parsley or cilantro to garnish
salt and pepper to taste
What to Do
Start the polenta by boiling the water in a large pot over high heat, with salt. Slowly whisk the corn meal in, until smooth. Simmer, covered, on lower heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for desired consistency. Once it’s cooked, whisk in the butter until completely melted.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add garlic and shallot, cook for 2 minutes, or until shallot is translucent. Add in chilli flakes and tomatoes, and break up with a wooden spoon. Add tomato paste and about 1/2 tsp salt, stir to combine. Cook for 15 minutes, tasting, until sauce is mostly smooth. Add more salt if needed. Toss in shrimp and peas, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, until shrimp is pink and opaque.
Spoon the polenta into bowls, top with tomato sauce and shrimp, top with feta and parsley/cilantro.
I got nearly every ingredient for this (including the salt!) from Brixton market, so this meal really was a reminder of an interesting Saturday and the joys of shopping around for quality ingredients.