When I moved out East from North London in 2011, I had no idea the area was about to become one of the coolest destinations in the city.
A number of young British artists led the way when they set up their studios here because rents were low. The hipsters soon followed, breathing new life into a fantastically multi cultural part of London.
Now it seems to be a universal truth that wherever there are hipsters, funky cafes, bars, restaurants and foodie street markets spring up, making the area a gourmet paradise and East London is no exception.
If, however, you come to the East End, looking for traditional British food, you’ll be disappointed. Apart from cups of tea and the odd fish and chip shop, old school British food has all but disappeared. I know it’s unpatriotic but actually you’re really not missing much…tasteless meat, soggy, overcooked cabbage and lumpy mashed potatoes – that’s what I remember from my childhood.
So, not much British food but plenty of global food which can be washed down with a pint of locally produced craft beer. And by the way, these days, you can get a decent cup of coffee in London…thankfully, the days when tepid dishwater was passed off as coffee are over.
The weekend is a perfect time for foodies to visit East London because you can stroll from market to market, eating yummy bites to suit all tastes along the way.
You could go a little crazy trying to choose from the amazing buffet of street food, so I’ve chosen 5 bites for you to sample.
Just supposing you spend Friday night partying until dawn in one of the East End’s Shoreditch clubs and you feel a little rough on Saturday morning, don’t worry. Head to London Fields Lido for a refreshing dip in the (slightly) heated outdoor pool, dry off and walk across the fields (about 15 minutes) to Broadway Market. Just follow your nose because every Saturday, a food market takes place here. Gourmet burgers, Ghanaian stews, Iranian salads, amazing breads, cheeses, olives and cakes are on sale at the stalls. My brunch of choice is gozleme, a Turkish flatbread, filled with spinach and crumbly feta cheese. You know it’s 100% fresh because you can watch it being made and then eat it straight from the pan and yes, I have burnt my mouth a couple of times…it smells and looks so good I can’t wait for it to cool down before tucking in!
Broadway Market, London E8
You know I said British food is almost extinct in the East End of London. Well, at this Broadway Market stall, you will find scotch eggs, traditional English pub food but these ones have had a welcome 21st century makeover. No longer filled with fatty, poor quality sausage meat, these eggs come in a variety of yummy flavours vegetarian, meat or gluten free. My favourite is the Indian spice one – so many tastes in one – the softness of the egg blends fabulously with a mild curry flavour and the outer crispy crunchiness. Scotch eggs might look like a little snack but in fact are very filling – a meal in themselves. And remember, they were traditionally eaten in pubs so a pint of craft beer at the Cat and Mutton pub in the market is a perfect match!
Broadway Market, London E8
Cupcakes were around in my childhood but then seemed to disappear, until a few years ago when they were reincarnated. Back in the day, they were plain and functional; now they come in a variety of sizes, designs and colours. I have even known platters full of gloriously decorated cup cakes to replace the traditional wedding cake at some marriages. In Broadway market, you will find the queens of all cupcakes at Violet’s stall, so, whether or not, you have a sweet tooth, treat yourself to one – they really do taste as good as they look – light and fluffy sponge covered with just the right amount of not too sweet icing.
Broadway Market, London E8
Danced off all the food you ate at Broadway market on Saturday night, you’re ready for more street food on Sunday, right? I’d recommend a walk down the weekly East End flower market at Columbia Road en route to Brick Lane.
Now Brick Lane is a fascinating fusion of cultures – it’s the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community, so dozens of curry restaurants line the street. Like the rest of East London, the artists and hipsters have moved in and added their culinary mark to the Sunday food stalls. It is thanks to the large Jewish population who lived in and around Brick Lane in the 19th and part of the 20th centuries, that the beigel bakery exists. To this day it’s an iconic East End institution selling fresh beigels all 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day…I have seen people queuing up to buy beigels at 3 am! In case you’ve never had the pleasure of eating one, they’re hard and crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside and if you can get them while they’re still warm, they are to die for. You can get all kinds of fillings but personally, I think smoked salmon and cream cheese is the perfect combo and will keep you going for several hours especially if you team it up with a good strong espresso or latte from one of the many coffee shops around.
Beigel Bakery 159 Brick Lane, London E1 6SB
Since the mid 1950s, there has been a thriving Jamaican community in London. Along with carnivals, reggae, rap, rice and peas and saltfish, Jamaicans are famous for their mouthwatering patties, all soft, flakey pastry on the outside, spicy filling on the inside. Like the British scotch egg, these Brick Lane patties have been updated. Yes, you can still buy the traditional jerk chicken one, like mama made but jerk salmon…that’s a radical new one. And these patties come with a big bright smile – what’s not to like – a cheerful stallholder and a satisfying brunch or lunch snack!
Brick Lane, London E1
Did I mention the many street musicians who make Brick Lane rock with their rhythms and add to the fantastic atmosphere of the place on a Sunday? Shake a leg or just stand and listen while you enjoy your beigel or patty.
So, there you have it – a virtual food tour of the East End of London – in this wonderful fusion of smells, tastes and colour, choosing just 5 bites was a hell of a challenge!