East London's Best Gastro Markets: Satisfying Street Food

Food markets have always been a staple of daily London life, where people went for their week's groceries and to catch up with the local gossip. South London's Borough Market was the first gastronomic star, turning from traditional fruit and veg stalls to somewhere you could buy hand-rolled pasta and fresh oysters, seaweed still intact. It attracted so many visitors it has now expanded threefold, with off shoot markets, as well. Borough Market was just the first however; East London's Broadway Market soon followed suit. 

In recent years, perhaps a product of these uncertain times of recession, a veritable army of culinary creatives has emerged offering everything from kimchi burgers to colonial style kedgeree in roving street stalls and food trucks, just as we've seen around the globe. It seems these days that the whole world and their dog are gourmands, in fact, you can even buy gourmet dog food at some of the more chichi markets. 

The city's hunger for street food shows no sign of abating, and more markets than ever have popped up to cater to the epicurean masses. This list covers the whole gamut, from traditional local fruit and veg markets that have been here since the 19th century through to Friday night foodie festivals in Dalston, fast becoming the of-the-moment alternative to restaurant dining. 


Stoke Newington Church St is a long and winding street in the North of Hackney. It winds its way towards the borough of Islington, and passes through many different incarnations on it's way east and west. There is a great gourmet organic food store, a variety of delicious restaurants, cafes, patisseries and brunch stops. Pubs, clubs, and bars, and of course great shopping. From little garden centres and flower shops, to jewellery, clothes, vintage finds, bookshops, toys and games for children. In short, you can happily spend all day here shopping and browsing and enjoying a great place to hang out. Stoke Newington is known as "nappy valley" and there are a lot of buggies, and "yummy mummies" here all week long, browsing and shopping which makes for a great place to browse, and some original and tempting products.

Ridley Road Market is a far cry from the chichi other parts of Hackney. It has for the most part retained its traditional character. East End "barrow boys" will sell you fruit and vegetables with a cheeky smile, alongside shops for Haitians, West Africans, Halal butchers, Caribbean delicacies and calalloo. At the busiest time you can barely get through the crush of half of Hackney buying their groceries for the week, and watch out for the chickens and half pigs hanging up outside some of the butchers. There's a 24 hour bagel bakery near the station at one end, and some great music shops selling pretty much everything tucked away within the busiest parts.

Exmouth Market is one of the city's most gastronomically exciting streets from Antipodean coffee culture at Caravan to city's (arguably) best restaurant Moro, so it's little wonder that a street food market here is thriving. Located between Kings Cross, Angel and Farringdon, it's an area often overlooked by tourists, with no direct tube stop, but that has kept the vibe local and low key, attracting workers on their lunch hour. You can pick up anything from Ghanaian street food from award-winning Spinach & Agushi to gourmet Mexican from Freebird. Eat your purchases sat on the church steps or on one of the benches in the park, and then peruse the independent shops here.

Outlying Areas

This is the longest market in Europe, offering 1km of food stalls covering the length of Walthamstow High Street. This isn't a gastro market in the new-fangled sense, but an authentic London experience, where locals have been coming to buy their groceries since 1885. Walthamstow is now known for its yummy mummies and middle class homeowners, who snapped up the sweet Victorian terrace houses in the area. This has changed the atmosphere of the place, and it can feel positively like a village fete at times. Five days a week, the market dominates the Village, as its called locally, with about 500 stalls selling predominately fruit and veg and cheap household goods, but also everything from traditional Cockney fare like jellied eels to Caribbean cuisine like jerk chicken. On Saturdays at St James Street they have more range of stalls with global street food, antiques and homemade crafts.

The Old Truman Brewery is at the heart of Brick Lane life. Once one of the largest brewers in the world, it closed in 1989 and the original site was bought up by developers. Back then Brick Lane was still a rough and ready place, where many Londoners wouldn't think of going, with the art scene just starting their. They transformed acres of vacant and derelict buildings into office spaces for media savvy companies, bars, restaurants, shops and the now famous markets, as artists and creative types took over the area. While most the venues here from All Star Lanes to Rough Trade rent space from them, the Old Truman Brewery is most commonly known for their markets from the Sunday Upmarket, boasting 200 stalls, to the Backyard Market with its kitsch arts and crafts. These have made the area a mecca for fashion students from around the globe, and now tons of tourists.

This adorable little market is largely to thank for the total regeneration of Clapton. In an area once better known for violent crime than culinary prowess, it would have been impossible to imagine a food market such as this thriving. But since reopening in 2010, after nearly 20 years in hibernation, it's been attracting people from across London, touted as the next Broadway Market. For scrumptious British nosh like devilled kidneys or home cured bacon head to the boys in vintage attire at What the Dickens? Or try some flavourful and filling okonomiyaki, traditional Japanese pancakes, from Fumio at Sho Foo Doh. Handmade chocolates, home-baked bread or Italian cheeses are all on offer, as well as books and vintage clothes. The street is now full of independent coffee shops and restaurants catering to the new foodie crowds.

Part of the Old Truman Brewery's stable of markets, this was their first entirely food centric offering. Held in the 19th century Old Boiler House, it's a stunning setting for a feast with soaring ceilings and the distinctive Truman Chimney taking centre stage, making it a landmark in its own right. They've filled the former factory floor with over thirty food stalls from around the globe, and the smells alone are overwhelmingly diverse. There is a cluster of picnic tables inside, but its best in summer months, when you can take your goods into the outdoor beer garden, which is often thankfully free of the usual weekend crowds.

East London

London's first bona fide night market, Street Feast lures thousands of hungry Londoners every weekend, swapping the expense and formality of restaurant dining for the bustling, brouhaha of this street market. There is certainly more choice than you could get at any one restaurant with 15-20 menus at each event from gyoza at Rainbo to Korean fast food at Kimchi Cult. Predominantly hosted in an old builders yard in Dalston, with picnic tables, old sofas, several bars and secret nooks and crannies, all decorated with twinkling lights, despite the space they still get super crowded. However, they will be roving from September 2013, so check out the website for details of future venues.

King's Cross

A collective of street food stalls, they function under the dictum of 'making cities taste better,' and they're doing a mighty fine job of it. Beginning as something called Eat.St in Kings Cross, they were at the forefront of the current street food revolution in London. They work as a collective of vendors, who take turns to trade at their now various London-wide markets. Kings Cross KERB is still the hub of the action, with dozens of daily changing stalls, while they also have spaces in Bloomsbury, Maida Hill and outside the Gherkin on Bishopsgate in the East. The reason they hold such dominance over the scene, is you have to be top notch to qualify for membership, raising the gastronomic bar high for vendors. This makes for some excellent dining options from sticky barbecue ribs to masala fish wraps.

Broadway Market attracted visitors long before the rest of Hackney was somewhere to hang out. London Fields (the name of the park and surrounding area) became an island of creative cool in the midst of housing estates and takeaway shops, all thanks to the gourmet market that sets up shop every Saturday. They have a good selection of food, crafts and farmers' market goods, as well as stalls catering to locals with the likes of gluten free brownies or hand cured smoked salmon. Such is the popularity, that the market has now spread down the side streets, spawning new markets (such as that in Netil House) with street performers keeping the crowds entertained. And crowds there certainly are. Come early if you have low tolerance, but otherwise shuffle along patiently, and admire the fine facial hair and fashion on display.


Meet Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall is a freelance writer specialising in travel, food & drink, covering topics as varied as narcs in the Colombian jungle to cocktail drinking in Cuba. Tyler has lived in London...  More About Tyler