Billingsgate Market, Hackney.
Updated: Apr 9
Two weeks ago we ventured out to Billingsgate Fish Market. As a food loving pair, we always seek to find roots of all that we consume, for both educational and appreciation purposes. This time we were going to learn and appreciate the “By Sea” Process.
We’re always telling stories of chefs and restaurants through a visual that gives a backstage pass to “a day in the life” of passionate individuals in the industry through Food Story Media.
Our goals are to show the work, passion, effort, and skill of passionate individuals within hospitality, and the motto is “Great stories are told by those who have been a part of them”. As we’re both from different ends of the industry, we aim tell these stories from an inside perspective, and when the topic of Billingsgate arose, we figured it would only be fair to experience it ourselves before telling the story. I’m so glad we did.
Saying “this ones’ a beauty” of a decapitated tuna
may not warm the hearts of the squeamish,
but it’s all about perspective.
The market opens for deliveries at 4am. We got there at 3:45am to scope the place out and make sure that we were allowed to film. Before entering the space, the industrial feel of the area along with damp pavements from washing away the fish water, gives a good introduction to the old school fisherman community. It was still dark when we arrived so the combination of darkness, dampness and cold may not seem so inviting, but everyone that passed us by smiled, and that was enough welcome for us.
Upon entering the market, the energy completely shifts. Bright lights, and the hustle and bustle of fish laborers is something we’ve never experienced before. I think for a moment we were a bit stunned from all that was going on while the rest of the city is peacefully asleep. The market functions as it did since the sixty’s. Each trader has a designated space which comes handy with a phone that’s used to contact the boats out at sea. We arrived as the fisherman packed their orders for pick-up by the fish-porters. Once collected, the fish-porters transport the fish from the market to hundreds of white vans that make the deliveries to restaurants and supermarkets. A few loud “mind your legs”, and we finally got the hint to move out of the way and stay to the side to let them pass.
To my surprise, although the smell of fish is definitely present, it smelled more like the ocean. This was fish that was caught hours ago, so the level of freshness is top notch and excludes the “fishy” aromas we all tend to dislike. Upon speaking to a few of the traders, we learned the process, and a bit about their love for this industry, which shows by the way they spoke of the fish they were trading. Saying “this ones’ a beauty” of a decapitated tuna may not warm the hearts of the squeamish, but it’s all about perspective. The appreciation for the process and product that they’re trading makes you understand why it’s worth paying a bit more for fresh fish rather than something frozen in a plastic bag.
The spread is vast, as the boats come from various countries.
Crabs, cockles, crayfish, mussles, seaweed counters, and just about every variety of fish you can wish of finding. We bought some monk and later enjoyed it seared with salsa verde along with curried parsnips and sweet potatoes.
All in all, this experience was humbling and eye-opening. To be a part of the daily fish trade from the moment it begins until the moment it ends (9am) was the best way for us to appreciate the next time we order fish, not just for the way it’s cooked but for the journey of where it came from
Photography by Nathan Snoddon, Food Story Media
Written by Alla Malina, Food Story Media