If Borough Market is a yuppy, granola foodie’s palace, Brick Lane is the place where the real people go to escape all that pretension. An actual street located on the edge of East London, Brick Lane has a rich history you can read all about online. I’ll leave you to read that on your own, because I have a habit of making posts too long. It’s famous for curry houses, and more recently for it’s own market. This market is more warehouse than shopping center, as it occupies at least (I was having trouble counting as we wandered through the crooked aisles) 3 attached buildings, which were cobbled together with the use of awkward ramps, hidden entrances and a few unexpected stairs.
When you first walk in, every single sense is inundated with food and smells and sights and sounds and yes, even touch. The place was so packed, you couldn’t move without running into someone, which counts (for my purposes at least) as touch. Part open (prepared) food market, part flea market and part boutique clothing store, the variety of things available for purchase was legendary. (How I Met Your Mother reference, anyone? For that matter, you could have bought a denim suit emblazoned with a glitter-covered Union Jack, which even Barney would find amazing.)
After taking a full tour, which included more 90s fashion than I’ve seen in one place since packing my mom’s closet when we left my childhood home (sorry mama.L), we decided it was time to eat. I’m normally a pretty quick decision maker, and I’m relatively happy with just about everything offered to me in terms of food, but this decision was incredibly overwhelming. I actually committed to not fewer than 3 stalls, before getting within one customer of service and panicking that I wasn’t making the right decision. (For the curious among you, I almost succumbed to Indian curries, Mediterranean mezze and Venezuelan arepas (Sushi, I was thinking of you the whole time!).)
After all of this, I finally got in line for a Pad Thai dish that was made into an omelet. Literally, made-from-scratch pad thai, pulled at the last minute to the side of the wok to allow for a quick layer of egg, which the noodle-deliciousness was moved on top of, and then wrapped in. My apologies to all of you, I was so excited I actually don’t have a photo of this. Next time I head back to the Brick Lane, I promise to find this stall and take a photo of someone else’s food in the least creepy way possible. My friends mostly ended up with the foods I’d passed up, and everything looked delicious.
We ate, and then we started to wander. We found a “building” made out of arbitrary pieces of wood, corrugated tin, and conveniently placed neighboring walls. Inside, a man played a piano with no front to entertain his visitors as they perused a veritable treasure trove of objects that had been forgotten. VHS tapes, the railing of an old staircase broken into pieces, a few doll heads, many many doors and shutters ready to be rehung, chairs ranging from a 90s computer chair to an 18th century (broken) cane chair. Next door was an even smaller closet selling used men’s suits. Lining the streets in all directions were vendors and their things. Furniture shared space with old computers, flowers with fresh fruit. Vintage records sat on top of cheap ripped paperback books. Running down the center off the street was a brand-new bike stand, courtesy of Barclay’s Bank, every slot occupied by a brand-new blue branded bike.
From the market, we continued north before hanging a left and working our way back down to our dorm in a big circle. I think we ran into 2 other markets, each with a different emphasis. Worth mentioning, we also found a new shopping center made out of shipping containers stacked on top of each other. Each brand (think Penguin, North Face, Puma) occupied one container. Props to the city for coming up with an incredibly eco-friendly way to build a shopping center.