Flavours of India and Beyond
We Londoners are a cosmopolitan bunch. That isn’t a recent phenomenon: our country has been built, over the centuries, on a diversity of cultures and that has also added to our cuisine.
The British national dish is curry. There is a curry house on every high street, with around 10,000 of them, so this isn’t just a fad. Indian food has been popular here since the days of Queen Victoria. She had her own Indian servants who would prepare delicious and spicy dishes that were so much more vibrant than the usual British fare of those times.
This two-and-a-half-hour journey through London’s Brick Lane doesn’t show you classy and polished London; it introduces the visitor to real London. It’s a neighbourhood that has had a long history. There are still streets of iconic Georgian buildings to attest to that fact. Some of those attic windows once shed light on the work of Huguenot weavers. The Brick Lane Mosque was once a Synagogue. It’s been an area that has welcomed those looking for a better life and they have all left their mark. This neighbourhood is called ‘Banglatown’ due to its high concentration of immigrants from Bangladesh. The restaurants, cafés and shops reflect that ethnicity.
We can visit any city as a tourist and we will be able to admire the architecture. We might find an interesting shop in which to browse, and restaurants abound. But even guide books can’t answer questions and they usual only cover the well-trodden path. One really needs an actual person with ‘insider’ knowledge, someone who is a regular in some different shops and restaurants, and someone who can even point out the very best of unique street art.
London Food Tours offer in-depth insights into, in this case, Brick Lane and its surrounding streets. One walks those streets, but that stroll is punctuated by bites of authentic foods. One starts the tour with a glass of British-brewed Indian beer, a plate of crispy poppadums and a selection of tangy chutneys. A very traditional start to any Bangladeshi meal in the UK.
This is a cultural tour as well as a culinary one. Our charming and able guide described points of interest in colourful detail as we made our way to the next venue, which was a supermarket. This is a box of tasty treasures for any food lover; there was enough time to do a circuit and to carry away some home-cooking essentials. One can find a selection of those aforementioned poppadums to cook chez vous, as well as aisles of spices and tableware.
Savoury snacks called ‘telebhuja’ are popular and our next stop allowed us to try a couple. We learned about the owner of the shop as well as a little more about the goods on sale. Trays of filled and fried pastries tempted the group, who unanimously pronounced these as flavourful and moreish. They actually constituted our starter on this roving meal extravaganza.
The shop next door provided our dessert, which we reserved till the end of the afternoon. Subcontinental sweets are made of copious amounts of reduced milk, sugar and butter along with exotic flavours and even decorations of real gold or silver leaf. I can highly recommend the Pistachio Barfi!
Then it was on to a refreshing glass of a yoghurt-based drink called lassi. We enjoyed this along with a brace of Bangladeshi fish curries accompanied by fluffy white rice. We ate with our hands as do the locals, although cutlery was available for the timid.
Bread cooked in a tandoor
The final stop was a short walk from Brick Lane but to an iconic restaurant which has long been appreciated by Londoners. Here we enjoyed a vegetarian and a lamb curry along with light naan bread cooked in a tandoor for delicate flavour.
This is the only London Food Tours excursion I have tried but I am impressed by their attention to detail, and the professionalism and enthusiasm of our knowledgeable guide. I am a Londoner but even I benefited from a tour rather than just an independent visit, and the walk introduced me to experiences I would otherwise have missed. I look forward to going along to other such guided tours.
Monday to Sunday at 2:30pm. The food tour takes place in Brick Lane which is in the East End, an 11-minute walk from Aldgate East station. Meeting point and detailed directions are provided with your booking confirmation. The food tour ends opposite Aldgate East station and the guide can point you towards alternative public transport or call a taxi for you.
From North America: 1 215 688 5571
From Australia: 03 9028 7131
From the UK: 01223 793177
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018