My friends and neighbours in London introduced me to the rather wonderful slice of the East End. Columbia Road Flower Market sprouts every Sunday and its stalls sell a whole bunch of plants, trees, fruity things and flowers in pots down the actual Columbia Road, itself a small street lined with pretty shops selling books, antiques and art. Go earlier for a wider and healthier selection of flora, or go late (ie. 1pm) to get less healthy but marked down from already cheap prices. A dark green tiled Victorian pub booms techno music in the morning (but it’s strangely OK, as it just adds to the vibe); tattered books, vintage jewellery, kitsch memorabilia from any decade you care to mention are some of the stalls’ offerings.
‘Round the back there’s a fabulous coffee stand where you’ll get one of the best caffe lattes in London – considering it’s made on a wheelbarrow, it’s as good as Caffe Nero (best coffee from a chain) or Bar Italia (best independent coffee bar, with the most unflattering wall mirror in all of London, and one of the few places there open 24/7/365. Unlike her American sister, London is a city which sleeps.)
Next door to the portable coffee shop is the fry-up stand, where you’ll get the best bacon sandwich in London – fried eggs, ketchup and HP sauce optional. What more incentive do you need to get up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday? And all a stone’s throw from the famous Spitalfields (prounounced spittle-fields, not spite-ul-fields) market too.
Below is a picture I took of Columbia Road’s signpost on my very first visit (Sept. 2003). I was amused because it was so low to the ground, and liked the contrast of the rust-coloured Victorian tiles. Taken on a busy corner, I was delighted to see I’d snapped a passerby squinting into my lens.
There are few things I miss about London, but I dream of that sandwich now that I am in the U.S. whose bacon tends to be meagre and streaky, or else plain old smoked ham, which they call ‘Canadian’ bacon. The only place in NYC where I’ve managed to find that generous fat ‘eye’ of salty pink bacon – what Americans seem to call ‘Irish’ bacon – is the crumbling-in-a-charming-sort-of-way Meyers of Keswick.