Yesterday, I was having one of those rare occurences in my life: a weekday off, and my sister and I decided to go out and get our nails done in preparation for the big wedding this weekend. I rarely venture around my street on weekdays so while I knew that Berwick Street is a popular place for people around the area to have lunch, I didn’t quite realise its impact on the people who work in and around Soho until I saw a sign thanking people for petitioning to save the Berwick Street Market.
I’m sure I got the flyer in the mail, but it must have been one of those weeks where I was working 70 hours a week and anything that had nothing to do with the nhs or orthopaedics were pushed to the back of my mind to be attended to later. So this market has apparently been independently run for about 300 years but the Westminster City Council is aiming to privatise it (ugh, story of our lives) so someone started a petition at change.org.
I am not socially conscious and I don’t always fully understand the implications of privatisation. But I do understand tradition, and how important it is to have continuity, the pleasure one takes in carrying on a routine.
When I was in high school, there were two or three street vendors who would sell fish ball, squid roll and fish tempura outside the school grounds. They’d have these mobile frying pan thingies where they would fry these delicious treats after which they’d be skewered in barbecue sticks and we would be able to dip them in the selection of sauces provided (sweet, chilly and this vinegar mix that to this day I can’t quite recreate).
It probably wasn’t the most hygienic thing in the world, but in the Philippines, we weren’t much fussed about those things. I think as a result, we as a people developed strong stomachs and, short of actualt typhoid, can tolerate pretty much a range of food-borne bacteria. We were all perfectly capable of asking our parents to buy these things in the supermarket to have at home, but it just wasn’t the same as queuing up with all the other skids after school just to have fried fish ball. It became part of the after-school socialisation routine.
It was even more special for me because I was raised quite strictly as a child and I never stayed late after school on account of the need for me to study AND tutor my younger siblings. But on the rare occasion where the driver would pick us up late, i was right there queuing with all the other kids, excited at the prospect of eating a simple street food.
I think my love of street food and street markets stemmed from those days. When I travel, I have never been able to resist the lure of the street market. When I first arrived in London, I went to all the markets: Borough, Brick Lane, Camden. London is full of them, especially in the summer, and they’ve become a tourist attraction as well as places to eat. But Berwick Street is special. Its local and its home. I feel kind of bad that I didn’t do much to preserve something that’s been here since before I was born, but I promise I will try to patronise the local businesses here as often as budget allows.
The food really is tasty and quite affordable too. Usually of Meditarranean and Lebanese origin, they offer a selection of gyros, falafels, lots of lamb, wraps, halloumi, etc. There’s also a fresh fruit and vegetable stall if you don’t feel like trekking through nearby Chinatown to find produce. Seriously, I love that I live so close to this. Hopefully, it will be around for a long long time.