London through its immigrant food

When talking about the cities where the foodscape is strongly defined by the immigrants, I immediately think of Mumbai. For me – as far as India is concerned – no other city has taken the food from across the country and created a food culture which is so specific to Mumbai; I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say that the city wholeheartedly opens up to food from all over India whether through street-food stalls, small family owned restaurants or the home chefs who graciously welcome the curious eaters into their homes, sharing a bit of their culinary culture with them. Mumbai is, after all, a city created by the immigrants.

There’s no wonder then, that London reminded me so much of Mumbai. It’s one of the few cities in the world which has so openly accepted the food cultures of the world. A trip to any of the famous food markets will give you an idea of the number of cuisines the city is now home to. However, these markets (Borough, Camden, Portobello) aren’t necessarily the best places to eat food from across the world. The best food is beyond the food markets, in small lanes or probably at a bakery next-door. While the pandemic affected most part of my London stay, I did manage to eat some really good food before we were confined to our homes. Before I left London and moved back to India, i created a Twitter thread of all these places. This post is a slightly elaborate version of that thread.

Doubles at Roti Joupa, FInsbury Park

This Indo-Trinidadian street-snack/breakfast dish is a distant cousin of the India chhole-bhature, but with less masala. Created by the descendent of Bihari indentured labourers, the snack has two baras (what we call bhatura in India) with chana (chickpea) curry and chutneys between them. The origin of doubles is probably one of the greatest stories of diaspora food, one that deserves a post of its own.

Uyghur food at Dilara, Finsbury Park

Uyghurs are Turkic Muslims from Xinjiang province of China. Their food is a beautiful crossover of Chinese and Central Asian spices and cooking techniques with dumplings, hand pulled noodles, Sichuan scented kebabs and pilav. London is home to small Uyghur community who run a couple of restaurants serving food from their home. The most popular dish at Dilara is big plate chicken – a stew with potatoes, hand pulled noodles flavoured with spices like Sichuan pepper and black cardamom.

Ethiopian food at Merkato, Caledonian Road

The world knows about the famous Ethiopian injera bread – fermented, fluffy, made with teff flour and eaten with various accompaniments. We had it with dereq tbsi (sauteed beef with tomatoes, pepper, onions), baldonga (split chickpea stew, lentils and greens.

Bokit at Bokit’la (a pop-up food stall)

A sandwich made with fried dough (again, imagine crisp bhatura) stuffed with chicken, lettuce, tomato and sauces. A Caribbean street-snack from Guadeloupe, a French archipelago which has culinary influences from various parts of the world.

Brazilian pastel at Portobello Market

In one of the episodes of #PartsUnknown Anthony Bourdain says that deep-fried food is the backbone of any street fair in the world. How I agree. While walking around in the Portobello market, we were drawn towards the aroma of this deep-fried Brazilian snack. This crisp, pastry like dough had a filling of minced chicken and cheese.

Arepas at Venezuelan Kitchen, Camden Market

The deep-fried corn bread, stuffed with chicken/beef, fried plantain, cheese and topped with sauces. The dish has my heart since I ate it first at The Latin Mess in Mumbai (which still remains a favourite). This arepa, however, is probably the best thing to eat at Camden Market.

Gozleme at Petek Patisserie, Turnpike Lane

When you pass a Turkish sweet shop/patisseries, you’ll spot a woman sitting near the glass window rolling out flatbreads with various fillings. Walk straight in and ask for gozleme – Turkish flat bread (almost like a paratha) stuffed with potatoes, spinach and cheese or minced chicken/beef. My go to place every time I craved aloo paratha. Makes me wonder, did paratha came to us from the Turks?

Turkish breads at a Turkish bakery, Wood Green

The best thing to happen to me during lockdown was me discovering this Turkish bakery right next to my house. Most days, I’ll quickly walk to the shop in the morning to pick-up fresh bread and eat it with butter or humus for breakfast. This here, is simit – a bagel like bread which is dipped in fruit molasses and water before being baked. One of the oldest breads from Istanbul. The joys in living in an area populated by Turkish people!

Humus kavurma at Kervan Sofrasi

One of the best Turkish restaurants in London in my opinion. This dish of warm humus with spices lamb and pine nuts is probably my favourite. I don’t want to eat humus any other way after eating this.

Kashmiri Pandit food at Phirsaal Caterers

Never thought I’d find Kashmiri Pandit food in London; it’s hard to find it in India. But I guess Kashmiri food tends to find me (I was fed plenty of Kashmiri food in London…right from rogan josh to yakhni). The catering co is run by Shafalica Bhan Kotwal and Ravi Bakshi. On my plate there’s rajma, chawal and masch (meat balls)

Sri Lankan food at Kolamba, Kingly Court

I haven’t had Sri Lankan food since my trip to Sri Lanka where I got the taste of home cooked Sinhalese meal (the highlight of my trip). So, finding a great Sri Lankan restaurant in London was pure joy. On the table you can see yellow monkfish curry, polos (jackfruit) curry, gottukola sambol and rice. There was also pol sambol, kiri pani (yogurt with kitul treacle), and Elephant Ginger Beer.

Iraqi food at Portobello Market

Timman bagilla – rice cooked with dill and broad beans, served with yogurt, coriander and tomato chutney, and aubergine subzi. The two boys at the stall sold the dish to me. Wasn’t planning to try it so kudos to their marketing skills.

Chinese food at Plum Valley, Chinatown

I think my greatest regret would be exploring the restaurants in Chinatown. Thankfully though, the restaurants in the area started serving before I left and I had my last meal at this most vibrant food market of London – pot rice with spare ribs and chicken feet, bbq pork bun, tea. The Chinese do know how to make their meat so goddamn delicious.

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