Why I loved the weekend trips to our local market in London

The World
Shoppers at the famous Portobello market in London.

Shoppers at the famous Portobello market in London.

Shirin Jaafari

I first set eyes on London when I was 9. It was my very first trip abroad — my first airplane ride that I remember.

My dad had received a scholarship from Shiraz University in Iran to study in the UK. He’s a historian and a linguist and his plan was to complete his Ph.D. in ancient languages at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Vendors at the Portobello Road market in London.

Vendors at the Portobello Road market in London.

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari

So we went. All five of us — me, my twin sister and younger brother, and my parents.

My dad had always been the adventurous type. He backpacked his way through Europe as soon as he saved enough money to get himself there and back. The rest, he would figure out. He always told the story of the time when he finally made it to Paris, hungry as a bear, and decided to splurge on a decent sandwich. He was handed a baguette as tough as a rock and inside it was the thinnest slice of meat he had ever seen in his life.

“How did they manage to slice it so thin,” he would ask bitterly, years later.

Life in London started quickly. We, the kids, were signed up to go to school. My dad started his studies and my mom enrolled in a local college, taking computer classes.

Weekdays were about learning a new language, doing homework we didn’t understand and adjusting to life in a completely different culture. Saturdays, on the other hand, were the best part of living in London. It was about us — as a family.

One of the stands at the Portobello Road market in London.

One of the stands at the Portobello Road market in London.

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari

And Saturday was market day.

The market made all of us happy. Even my dad, who under any other circumstance would rather be at his desk reading or writing.

Mom would plan the week’s dinners and write up a list. The kids, we would be beaming with excitement as we were only a short trip away from our favorite treats. Salt and vinegar crisps (chips), Hula Hoops, Mars bars and Cornetto ice cream were high on the list.

Food at the Portobello Road market.

Food at the Portobello Road market.

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari

But the best part about the market was the sights and smells of all the fresh fruits and vegetables. I had my first kiwi in a London market. It was bizarre but delicious.

Vendors would yell out their prices. “50 pence! 50 pence!”

Columbia Road flower market.

Columbia Road flower market.

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari

Trips to the local market felt good because it was a chance to feel part of the community and to share a common language — food. It was a different, yet familiar experience.

Back at home, mom would whip up something delicious with the day’s purchases. The evening would be spent around the dinner table. We would joke, laugh and share stories.

Produce at the Portobello Road market in London.

Produce at the Portobello Road market in London.

Credit:

Shirin Jaafari

Seventeen years after we left London, I find myself back here. No surprise then that my first weekend was spent at local markets. I couldn’t find any Hula Hoops and have fallen out of love with Cornetto ice cream. My parents and my siblings aren’t here. But the sights, smells and sounds of the markets are just as uplifting as I remembered.