( MARIA MORUZZI, CAFE OWNER )
INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS
My name is Maria Moruzzi. I was born in Kent, but I spent most of my life growing up in the Borough Market, so this was my playground.
What did your parents do?
My parents had a café called the Borough Café. During that time this area, which is mainly now shops and offices, was all market stalls and warehouses. It stretched through Stoney Street and Park Street, and even up to Borough High Road.
"I still do the same sort of cooking now. I’m still doing the bubble and squeak that we grew up with: it was never something special to us, but in a lot of people’s memories it’s very important. But I’ve had to adapt recipes because people are in a rush and not sitting down for a meal like they used to. I invented a bacon, cheese and bubble bap so people can walk and eat at the same time!"
When did you move to London?
I was born and spent the first two years of my life in Kent. After that we moved to Whitecross Street in the City and my mother worked in a café. My father used to lay terrazzo, which is Italian marble tiling. After a few years I was taken to Italy and left with my grandparents for nearly two years. I was quite a tomboy and Italy, with the open fields and animals and countryside, was better for me. When I came back we came to Borough Market. I remember coming back to noise, restrictions and different sounds entirely to those in Italy - it was certainly a culture shock. But it was a culture that I was willing to investigate due to my curiosity as a child. I still remember, at six years old, the excitement I felt of getting up that morning, coming down to the street and being surrounded by people. In Italy, I hardly saw anybody apart from the farmer in the next field, so London felt so crowded to me.
What do you remember of your parents’ café?
We grew up in the café - my sister was actually born upstairs there. My sisters and I used to play in this market as children; we were the only children for quite a number of years and then there was a family that moved into the Market Porter Pub, which in those days was called the Harrow Pub. I remember when it had sawdust on the floor and they used to sell teas and coffees. Back then it was a proper working man’s pub - it used to be open at 1 o’clock in the morning and all the porters and the buyers used to go in.
When the new family moved in we became very territorial, because it was our play area, our street and it had been like that for years. We thought, ‘Who are they? Why are they here in our space?’ After a while we started playing with them and we got on brilliantly, but I remember my first reaction was, ‘They’re on my territory. This is mine.’
What is your occupation now?
I still run a café. I grew up working in my parents’ café before school, after school and during the holidays. When both of my parents became ill I helped out full-time for a few weeks, which ended up turning into months, and then the months ended up turning into years. So now I’m still doing it, and have set up my own business called Maria’s Market Café.
I moved from Park Street to here in Borough Market twelve years ago after Network Rail purchased the business from my parents on a compulsory order. It was a time of many changes as I was faced with moving home at the same time that both my parents were terminally ill. One morning I had [MP] Nigel Lawson in the shop, who was a regular. We were talking about what I would like to do and I said I’d like to do something different. I had just lost my father and my grandmother, and I was losing my mother and also my home. Nigel said, ‘Stick to what you know for now, because you’re going to find this time really traumatic.’ I listened to his words of wisdom and I thought there was sense in them. So I started my café with the intention of doing it for a year and then going into floristry, but in the end I just stuck with it.
I enjoy it - not so much the cooking side of things, but meeting people. I am a people person. I’m terrible on computers - technology and me, we just don’t mix. But I enjoy meeting people from all different walks of life. I find people interesting and I think there’s always something to learn from everyone.
"This used to be a working man’s area, full of warehouses. Now the City has moved over to this side of the river. You would never see a suit here growing up. I remember the first suit coming into the market, and the porters getting really irate, because they were territorial - you should’ve heard some of the blue language"
Could you tell me about your first encounter with the South Bank?
When I first came here as a child, South Bank was very much a thriving dock area. You didn’t really see lorries on the road as everything used to be shipped along the Thames. It was a very busy area and my sisters and I would go down to the bottom of our road and wait for the barges with all their exotic fruit to be unloaded. Now you can get bananas all year round, but in those days things were more seasonal so you had the excitement of seeing the new fruits come in. I remember as a child we used to have tiny aprons that we’d gather together and form little pockets to catch anything that spilt off the barges. For a child to see all those things was exciting and mysterious. ‘What are they going to have on the barges this week? When is this coming and when is that coming?’
What sounds and smells do you associate with the South Bank?
The smells were spices, sacks and the water. The smells were real, the area smelt earthy. Now it’s all sparkly and shiny, which is beautiful, but it feels more sterile to me, like it’s lost its personality.
As for the sounds, if I remember rightly, until around 20 years ago it was all cobblestones around here. Now it’s flat, boring tarmac. I think textures are important as they give a place a certain feeling.
Living above the café, did it always smell of bacon?
Yes – unfortunately! I grew up constantly having food cooking, morning, noon and night. I still do the same sort of cooking now. I’m still doing the bubble and squeak that I made a name for myself with. Bubble and squeak was something we grew up with: it was never something special to us, but in a lot of people’s memories it’s very important. But coming into the market, I’ve had to adapt recipes because people are in a rush and not sitting down for a meal like they used to years ago. I invented a bacon, cheese and bubble bap so people can walk and eat at the same time!
Can you tell me about your first job in London?
My sisters and I had to work in the café from the age of seven. They used to stand me on an upturned apple box by the sink with an apron on that was up to my neck, because I was so tiny. I had to learn very quickly to do the washing up right or else I had to redo it. From there I progressed to bringing sandwiches to customers and clearing tables. Now, I can still feel the motions of washing up as a child!
Working life isn’t just about the job you do, but the people you meet. Each one has got its own little file, but each one is as important as the other one, [whether you are] meeting Prince Charles, meeting the Queen, meeting famous chefs or just people selling The Big Issue.
Is there one particular character that really sticks in your mind?
One of the people who sticks in my mind the most is Ted Hardy. When we were children, come Christmas eve Ted Hardy would come in and say, ‘Right girls, which tree do you want?’ So we’d go around with him and point to trees that would be up on display for customers. He would say, ‘When everyone’s gone I’ll go pinch it and bring it to ya.’ Bless him! When we had that Christmas tree it felt like magic to us because in those days we didn’t have much.
I remember one year my sister and I had a doll to share between us - I was born on Boxing Day, so it was for my birthday and our Christmas. A customer called Three-fingered Ernie, who used to work in Courage’s Brewery, came in and asked my sister what she got for Christmas, and she told him we got this doll to share. A couple of hours later he came back with a teddy bear bigger than my sister and he said, ‘Here, you have this.’ That’s another special memory. I’ll never forget that.
What’s been the biggest change in the area in the last thirty years?
Definitely the way the Market has changed. It used to be a thriving, wholesale market but now the docks have all gone. It’s gone from a working man’s area, full of warehouses, to upmarket, expensive flats and some offices. The City has moved over to this side of the river. You would never see a suit here growing up. I remember the first suit coming into the market, and the porters getting really irate, because they were territorial. They felt that person was intruding on our space: ‘Go back to the other side of the water.’ That’s putting it nicely - you should’ve heard some of the blue language!
How has the change impacted on your working life?
My working life hasn’t really been affected that much in the sense that I still do long hours. It’s the people that are different: it’s gone from solid working men to office people, solicitors, media people, computer programmers, what have you. Tourists galore. That’s nice as well, because they have their own stories. There are some people who come back the following year who come and see you, and they always bring a little something from their village or town, especially the French. They bring you little chocolates or cheese, or a small bottle of whatever comes from their region. They tell us, ‘This comes from where I come from,’ and I find that very warming.
What do you hope for the future?
For the South Bank, I hope that it continues to develop but it doesn’t lose its soul. And for myself, I hope I can carry on appreciating the people around me and what I have.