“Don’t they do wholesale only?” someone whom I met over the weekend asked. I was trying to explain my eyebags by telling her that I had woke up at 4am that morning just to make a trip down to Billingsgate Market. “Actually, they do retail as well and to be honest, the fishmongers turned out much friendlier than expected.” I replied.
MC asked me the previous night whether I was game for a drive down to Billingsgate Market at Canary Wharf. “I’ll be at your place at around 5am,” he offered. I jumped at it. Totting a camera and a yellow pail, I hopped into his car and before cruising towards the Docklands in relatively light traffic.
Up till now, we have always been getting our fish from Steve Hatt. Granted that Steve Hatt isn’t the cheapest around (trumping even Waitrose’ prices), the fish and other seafood there is invariably fresh. Regardless, it is hard to beat the prices and freshness at Billingsgate Market, which practically supplies most of the independent fishmongers in London.
When we reached Billingsgate Market at around 5.30am and the entire place was already bustling with activity. There was none of the screaming, shouting and jostling that one would expect in a wholesale market (a far cry from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market) and everyone was relatively civil. Other than the occasional “mind your feet, mind your backs” from men pulling fish laden wooden pallets, there was almost a supermarket feel to the entire place.
Six farmed sea basses for £10, wild ones for £7.50 per kilogram, a huge (and I mean huge) slab of salmon fillet for £11, fresh jumbo tiger prawns going for £11 per kilogram, large fresh scallops at £18 per kilogram, whole tuna (almost a metre long) at £15, a sizable piece of salted cod for £4 per piece - prices that you wouldn't find anywhere in London. Other than that, there were rainbow trouts, oysters and mussels, squids, crabs, lobsters, and a whole lot of other fish both fresh and frozen offered by the rows of stalls at Billingsgate Market.
MC and I left forty five minutes with a number of plastic bags and even hauled along a large trash bag with our purchases, which obviously didn't fit into the pails that we brought along. As we were leaving, more people were streaming in arriving in vehicles parked in the sprawling carpark beside the market.
Just a couple of things to note.
- The fish don't come scaled and gutted so be prepared to do it yourself back home. Bring cash, they don't do card payments at Billingsgate Market.
- Arrive early; not only you'll get the choice lot, there's less people as well.
- Avoid wearing sneakers; though it's the market itself doesn't smell, you wouldn't want anything to get through your shoes.
- Don't try to haggle; I saw some tried and the fishmongers weren't too pleased.
- Bring something to munch on; if you are there early, chances are you'll be hungry quite soon after and there's no eating places nearby unless you fancy MacDonalds - there's a 24hrs branch just beside the market.
- If you run out of ideas on what to do with your haul, there's always the Billingsgate Market Cookbook
Have you been to Billingsgate Market? What did you get there?
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