Peter Morrrell enjoys the diverse culture and culinary delights of ‘Banglatown’ on one of Eating London’s new foodie tours
The Brick Lane area of London has been synonymous with ‘Indian’ food for some time. However visitors can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of choice that is on offer. Even more daunting can be what to order once inside a cafe or restaurant.
To give you an insight into the mysteries of Asian food Eating London, a specialist foodie tour company, has devised a fascinating tour of ‘Banglatown’ with introductions to both unusual ingredients and eateries serving authentic home-style dishes.
The tour loosely follows the courses of a meal and the first one was eaten at the Nazrul which is Brick Lane’s oldest established restaurant. It was here that I met my fellow gastronauts and the highly enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour leader.
As we munched on plain and spicy papadums dipped in a variety of pickles and sipped on Cobra beer, we heard about the history of the area. It was originally populated by Londoners, followed by the Hugenots, then the Jewish community before being settled by many from Bangladesh, Hence the name ‘Banglatown’. Another interesting fact is that most of the restaurants are Bangladeshi run so the term Indian restaurant is not strictly accurate.
Back on the street we saw the site of the old Truman brewery and a number wall murals, a sign that Brick Lane is becoming an arts quarter. Further down the street is an old established Asian supermarket where we marvel at strange fruit and veg and nibble on sweet tamarind.
Wandering down the Brick Lane we passed a mosque which reflected the changes in the area, it had been a Hugenot church, Methodist chapel, Jewish Synagogue before its current incarnation.
It was time to eat again, this time the starter, in the form of delicious street food, tasty samosas and pakoras, these were satisfyingly crunchy with punchy flavours. Just up the street was a shop selling sweets, not the conventional type but a range of sticky confections, we all chose one and they were boxed for us to eat at the end of the tour.
The next venue, where we would eat the fish course, was probably the most interesting on the tour. It was a cafe, very popular with locals, and served curries made with freshwater fish imported from Bangadesh. If that wasn’t enough, the most unconventional thing was eating the curry and rice with our fingers, great fun (forks available on request). Embedded in the the food were small pieces of chilli that caused a veritable taste explosion in the mouth, fortunately soothed by the mango lassi (a yoghurt drink) that we had all been given.
Our main course was about a 10 minute walk away, we passed old town houses now changing hands for £3 million plus before crossing Whitechapel High Street. We stopping to see the foundry where the Liberty Bell and Big Ben were cast. Turn down a side street we were on our way to our main course in the renown Tayyabs, before entering we heard how an impoverished Bangladeshi student had created what is now an institution.
Tayyabs has special significance for me as it was, at her request, the venue for my daughter’s 30th birthday. It’s a BYOB establishment and the other diners were puzzled by us drinking champagne and chablis.
Since I was last there it’s got bigger and even better. We feasted on three curries mopped up with the most pillowy hot naan bread.
Walking back to the main road and feeling very replete we stopped in Altab Ali park, named in memory of a local killed in a racist attack.
In the peace of the park we ate our last course, the indulgent sweets we had chosen earlier – a fitting end to an excellent and educational tour which is ideal for both Londoners and visitors.
Tours run daily 2.30pm – 5pm, £46 adults, £38 adolescents, £28 children.
You can also find links to three other London Food Tours and tours in Italy, Amsterdam and Prague by visiting www.eatinglondontours.co.uk