Portena: an Argentinian member of the Borough Market family
October 2, 2018
Federico Fugazza arrived in London from Argentina in 2002. His brother Franco was studying for a Master’s at the LSE; he quickly introduced Federico to Borough Market, his favourite place in London, for its food, its multicultural mix of people, and its socialising.
It was unique in London at that time, and Federico quickly realised that it was a special place, for its sense of friendship, and the sense of belonging to a community that welcomed him with open arms. It was like an easy adoption into a big family, and while the market has grown and developed, that community, that family, still exists today.
He quickly found a job with two brothers at their stall, Sardinia Organics (later to become Villanova Food) and with them learned “how to do everything” in a small company, the importance of people in how the market worked, and how to be himself in that environment.
He remembers 2004-5 as the boom years of Borough Market; the food scene in London was evolving fast, and by 2005 the leading supermarkets had started to sell similar products to the traders, sometimes at lower prices. Selling, by specialist knowledge of the products, and through personality, was more important than ever.
After working for other traders, Federico ran a stall at Borough for the Fresh Pasta Company at weekends. During the week he was working for a distributor of Argentinian food in London, and after a couple of years he wanted to express himself by representing his country in Borough Market itself. In 2007 he introduced a range of products under the name ‘Argentine Folklore’.
Federico used to sell 150 jars a day (each) of Chimichurri and Dulce de Leche off his trestle table “by talking all the time!” but he quickly realised that this on its own was not going to make a viable business.
With encouragement from his friends and neighbours in the market, he applied for a permanent pitch to sell typical products from Argentina: Chimichurri, dulce de leche, Alfajores cookies (filled with dulce de leche), the infusion Yema Mate, a sweet potato paste, and a quince paste.
He wanted to create a concept for the business, and hit on serving Empanadas, a street snack that Argentinians probably eat “twice a week, they’re more popular than pizza”.
Empanadas are small savoury pasties, with fillings such as beef, spicy chicken, ham & cheese, caramelised onions & melted provolone cheese. Porteña also offers spinach & ricotta, chorizo, ‘humita‘ (sweetcorn) and ‘Caprese‘, with mozzarella, tomato & basil.
The Moors introduced Empanadas to the Spanish, who in turn took them to Argentina. On the day of the Declaration of Independence in 1810 they were eaten in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, so they are central to Argentina’s national identity.
Borough Market was supportive as the business grew, and by 2013 it had moved from trading “under an umbrella” to a permanent shop on Stoney Street, with a seating area open into the evenings, the introduction of a steak sandwich, which was “easy to explain to the British public”, and Argentinian wine and beer. Everything was coming together nicely.
With more support from his friends in the market, in 2017 Federico took an opportunity to acquire premises on Southwark Bridge Road, from a friend who was ready to retire after thirty years in her restaurant. He called his friend Nico Modad, who had been head chef with Tapas Brindisa, and was now working in Cuba. He tempted Nico to return to London, and Chimichurris was born.
To be continued.
To visit Porteña, click here:
Porteña, 7A Stoney Street, Borough Market, London SE1 9AA