Maltby Street Market, London

If you’re at a busy central London food market and you see someone alone precariously photographing their food with a phone, and then stuffing their face, it’s probably me. I had nothing planned last Saturday and with my husband playing hockey I had a hankering to eat lots of delicious food so I hopped on a train and made my way to Maltby Street Market.

10 years ago I absolutely hated my own company and I didn’t do anything on my own. But something clicked in my late-twenties brain. Oh my god, I can do this thing that I really want to do, I don’t have to organise someone else’s time so they can come. And then we end up doing what they want to do, rather than what I actually wanted to do in the first place. Thankfully I now feel comfortable being alone, dining alone, being a history nerd alone and not giving a rat’s patootie what anyone thinks of me. It’s rather liberating and I highly recommend it.

I walked to Maltby Street Market from London Bridge station – it’s basically a straight line down Tooley Street and even if you don’t know where you’re going just follow the crowd. And the smells. The railway arches en route are full of bustling small businesses from a bakery and a brewery, which I had to drag myself away from, and a garage specialising in Porches with lots of impressive cars parked outside that I won’t pretend to know anything about.

The first thing I loved about Maltby Street Market were the lines of flags flapping in the wind above my head. The second thing I loved was the smell. Stalls were sizzling away and as I walked through the market for the first time the array of smells was just fabulous: melted cheese, sweet sugar, meaty steak, fresh coriander, and spicy paprika to name a few.

I walked up and down the row of stalls 4 times before finally deciding on the very first stall outside the market: La Pepiá. I’d never heard of arepas (I know, which rock have I been living under?) before or had Venezuelan street food before. The clincher for me was the sizzling hot plate at the front of the stall where they were melting piles of cheddar to create big cheesy crisps to adorn the filled arepas.

I chose a carrot bun filled with black beans and avocado, the vegan choice, until I opted for a cheddar crisp on top. Cheese will forever be my weakness.

Suffice to say it was absolutely incredible, if a little tricky, to eat. It went all over my fingers and my face, but it was 100% worth it. I did not give a rat’s patootie that anyone was looking.

After finishing my arepa I walked back through the market two more times and set my sights on a brownie from Bad Brownie Co. They had an immense selection of flavours from vegan salted caramel, triple chocolate, and oreo, to raspberry and prosecco. I decided on peanut butter because I’m a firm believer that anything with peanut butter added to it is instantly improved.

I tapped my Monzo on the card reader and pocketed the brownie; I was not ready for sweet yet.

My head had been turned at the start of the market by gnocchi. I’d never been a huge fan of gnocchi until I met my husband who took me to Padella one time and it turned out I had just been eating rubbish gnocchi all my life. I walked through the market for the 6th time and stopped at Gnocchi at 84 for the beef short rib ragu. Oh. My. God. It was absolutely unreal.

The whole caboodle was divine and I ate half the box before I was completely stuffed. I found a sunny spot outside the market and had a break for 20 minutes to let my food go down – there was no way I was leaving any gnocchi to waste. I finished it up, walked through the market twice more and then decided that I really was full now.

I spent the rest of my afternoon walking along the north bank from Tower Bridge to The Strand, which took about an hour. I ate my brownie overlooking the Thames along the way.

The last time I was on Tower Bridge I was running over it during the 2016 London Marathon. It was lovely just being a tourist this time and I walked just under 10km along the river.

For me Maltby Street Market encapsulates the best of London: people from all over the world getting together and lapping up food from all over the world. It’s a treasure and I can’t wait to go back (perhaps with some pals next time so I can try more food). From Vietnamese Banh Mi to Moroccan falafel and British scotch eggs, the array of food on offer is fabulous and I implore any foodie to go.

Casa Cannoli, King’s Cross Real Food Market, London

‘Take photos, we love photos’.

I thought I was being subtle trying to take photos of the rows of sugar dusted cannoli when the trader at Casa Cannoli encouraged me to keep taking more, and to share them on Instagram. I always feel awkward taking photos at markets because, to be honest, I just feel like a lemon. I’ve been following Casa Cannoli on Instagram for a while and vowed to get one during my lunch break, and a Thursday hammering down with rain seemed like the ideal time to go. An old American colleague of mine introduced me to cannoli a few years ago. She was flabbergasted that in my 20 something years on this earth I’d never eaten one, and once I’d had one, I was too. The joy of cannoli is the second bite. The first one being insanely delicious, and the second one being a mixture of panic and hilarity at how it’s disintegrated and you have to shove it all in one go rather than attempting a third bite.

Thankfully the rain had stopped when I got to the real food market outside King’s Cross station as I spent a good few minutes deciding which flavour cannoli to go for. Classico, coconut, pistachio, chocolate chip, if I hadn’t have just eaten a giant lunch from Hanoi Kitchen and eaten 3 biscuits at my desk already that day I’d have gone for the 3 for £5 box. I did however choose salted caramel which was handed to me in a Casa Cannoli branded napkin, which I immediately photographed and had to start eating because the ricotta started to spill out and I didn’t want to lose any.

As described above the cannoli crumbled after my second bite and I scoffed the rest of it in one very happy mouthful. After sorting out the ricotta on my fingers with my tongue and a napkin I resumed photographing the rest of the colourful cannoli on display. The awful weather didn’t seem to have put people off their cannoli because lot of the trays had been decimated.

I can highly recommend cannoli as an naughty but compact lunchtime treat to get you through the rest of your working afternoon. I’ll definitely be coming back – I’ve already decided on trying the pistachio cannoli next time – and I’m planning to take a box home for Christmas. Considering all this came about from following Casa Cannoli on Instagram I hope they give their social media person a well earned high five. And a cannoli.

Hanoi Kitchen, KERB King’s Cross, London

‘My poor chopstick tekkers is making my hand hurt’

I sat in King’s Cross station stretching my fingers because they were aching from my attempt to use chopsticks. In my head I’m a pro, but sometimes the chopsticks just literally fall out my hands. Hanoi Kitchen did provide sporks as well as chopsticks but I was determined to eat my chicken noodle pot with authenticity.

It was hammering with rain when I left my office, but I’d Googled who would be at KERB that afternoon and I desperately wanted noodles from Hanoi Kitchen. I zipped up my coat, donned my hood and put up my red umbrella to walk over to Granary Square. The pavements were soaked but instead of being grumpy about it splashing up my legs I just chose to ignore it. The food market at KERB was a bit of a sorry sight. Most of the stalls had no customers and the traders stood with crossed arms behind their steaming stalls, evidently chilly and soggy. The guys at Hanoi Kitchen were in good spirits though and when I asked them if the rain was ruining their day they said no because their trailer was dry and warm. I tried to take some photos but the rain proved a challenge so these are the best I could do:

I ordered the garlic chicken Bún noodle pot, which was served to me after a few minutes. One of the guys offered to put a foil lid on my pot so it wouldn’t get rained on, which was nice of them. I asked if I could take some photos before the lid went on and they obliged, agreeing that if it wasn’t on Instagram then it didn’t really happen.

I grabbed some chopsticks and made for King’s Cross station, trying very hard not to drop my pot of food or my umbrella, but by this point the rain was easing off and the sun started to come out. I made my way to the mezzanine opposite the departure boards and a well-dressed Italian gentleman let me take the spare seat his table. He later asked me if I wanted his napkin because the broth from the noodles was dribbling down my chin. Not my finest moment.

I was so excited to eat having spent 10 minutes visualising dropping my lunch as I walked back from the market. I pulled the foil off and a steamy aroma of coriander and chilli hit my nostrils. I winged-it with my chopsticks and took sips of broth when I thought fewest people were looking. My favourite thing about this sort of food is crunchy peanuts and to my delight it was garnished with lots. Even as I was finished there were peanuts swimming in broth at the bottom of the pot. The whole thing was delicious, warmed me up, and distracted my brain from my soggy feet.

I’ve never been to Vietnam so I can’t comment on authenticity, but I loved it and I don’t really care about authenticity if it tastes good.