Camden Town – Where Every Day Is Pancake Day
LONDON’S MARKET HOTSPOT | Sharon Henry
When in London, do what the hipsters do and head to Camden Market. Actually it’s not just hipsters, the word has spread and now around 500,000 people visit each week making it London’s fourth most popular attraction. It’s a one-stop shop for quirky fashion, curios and international street food.
Even on our mid-week, Tuesday visit the place was still fairly busy. Spilling out of the cramped Underground station onto the high street you instantly see, hear and feel why. Camden, teeming with all walks of life, is lined with an array of shops and building facades so whimsically adorned they’re a feature in their own right.
Above our heads were giant sized shoes sticking out the wall, skin-tight leather trousers and belly-button rings. Art comes in all forms and these shop fronts are certainly creative, giving the street a ‘cool’ image.
Every Day is Shrove Tuesday
Having skipped breakfast we stopped at a pancake shop to warm and fill our bellies. I was introduced to street food crepes at Portobello Market (London) many years ago and have had a weakness for them since.
We watched as the ‘chef’ spooned and spread the batter on a flat skillet. Next he expertly flipped it, then slathered on Nutella, sprinkled almonds and sliced banana. All cooked within four minutes. What’s better than the smell of warm chocolate sauce? Eating it! Yum!
There’s a choice of sweet or savoury crepes; strawberry, honey, maple syrup, mushrooms, ham, cheese and spinach.
Buck The Trend
If you’re thinking of adopting the never-out-of-fashion gothic or punk look, this is the place to go. There’s an eclectic range of shops and stalls selling army surplus goods, vintage, alternative, young designer creations, and even high street brands; actually, it’s fashion for everyone.
There are a number of tattoo and piercing parlours to finish off the look.
We moseyed toward the lock and river, still munching our generously sized pancakes, and peered down on romantics being serenaded onboard a punt boat. The boatman seemed to be having trouble building up momentum and the singer sounded slightly off-key, but hey, the ‘punters’ looked happy.
International Street Food
Unfortunately still full and belching from our pancakes, we wandered around the West Yard breathing in the delicious smells. Camden Lock’s Global Kitchen is famed for producing foodie delights from Malaysia, Brazil, the Deep South, Italy, Ethiopia and a host of other faraway countries. The market is also known for being good value, ie cheap, but we thought the prices a little steep at an average of £7 for take-a-way street food. Perhaps we were still in South East Asia pricing mode. But, perhaps not, as we overheard a guy quietly singing to his girlfriend, ‘money-money-money’, in reference to the prices.
Ali Dande a Turkish man born and raised in London and working at his brother’s stall, Ala Turko Kebabs, told us, “Tuesdays and Wednesdays are typically slow days. Saturdays you can hardly move for people.”
No Photography Allowed
Nothing beats a spot of retail therapy even if just browsing. Strolling around clothing, accessories, leather goods, handicrafts and antiques stalls is especially enjoyable, as they are filled with quirky, unique and original items.
Despite Camden Market being one of London’s hottest tourist attractions many stall holders are not keen on tourists taking photographs. We could understand when copyright of an artist’s painting or similar may be compromised, but when the vendors selling cheap sunglasses got a little ‘snappy’ at selfie taking tourists it all seemed a bit excessive.
Overcoming noisy traffic, the sweet voice of an acapella singer floated across the street and grabbed our attention. She had a simple set up; a speaker and what we guessed to be a multi-track recorder. One by one she laid down different beats using her voice as an instrument, then synchronised them so it sounded like she had a five-man band. Beats down, she struck up with Ben E King’s, ‘Stand By Me,’ and sounded so good people crossed the street to fill up her purple hat with donations. Very clever, very powerful, very talented.
Winds of Change
Camden Market began life as a small crafts market in 1974 and originally opened only on Sundays. Forty years later it has become a tourism magnet and real-estate hotspot. The seven markets that collectively make up ‘Camden Market’ have been snapped up by an Israeli billionaire for regeneration and development. There are mixed concerns the market’s unique character and culture may be lost. Either way, I’m glad we’ve experienced the ‘old’ version of this funky hipster joint.