Going Bengali in Brick Lane
It won’t be apparent to someone who hasn’t seen it first-hand, but the British are absolutely nuts about Indian cooking! It has been said that there are more Indian food stops in London than in Mumbai. And they’re not cheap imitations, either. We’re talking about authentic Bengali flavors. This has impacted London’s culinary culture so much that the folks at Eating London, a food tour company, has created an all-new tour just for this!
As our tour group met up, we were introduced to the reason behind this curious migration of flavors. It is to be remembered that at one point, India was a British colony. The largest group of immigrants in London happened to be Bengalis, bringing not just their culture but also the products of their kitchen to the western shores. As we learned this, the tour guide began asking us to introduce ourselves. We started with our name and home countries, followed with how spicy we can handle! As our guide assessed our tolerance for one of the most famous flavors of Indian cuisine, off we went to our first stop.
Our Indian Itinerary
We began the tour with some traditional Indian started, washed down with Indian beer! The restaurant’s name was Nazul. We had some bread that we can dip in a wide assortment of flavors, with lime and mango being our crowd’s favorite.
From there we moved on to Taj Store, a grocery which has a lot of weird and Indian stuff: tongue, brains, calves, and more! While here, we also talked about the neighborhood we were in, Brick Lane. The place is very famous for its concentration of curry houses! It became one of the hubs of the immigrants who settled in the big English cities where there are employment opportunities. Historically, the London East End has been one of the first ports of call for the Indians working in Bengal ports. This regular stopover was one of the first precursors for the opening of the first curry houses.
The neighborhood is also a haven for street artists, such as the famous Banksy. Because of its unique vibe, it has been the go-to place of many music videos! In fact, after we got out of Taj Store, we were treated to a street art stop showing the Sacred Crane of Bangladesh.
As we learned this, our guide had us try some tamarinds, which are common ingredients in Indian food. We also learned that the store is undertaking charity works by selling the products of communities and even prisoners from back home!
Up next, we had some samosas with chili sauce and potato balls with mint. This was courtesy of Bengali Appetizers, owned by the kindly Mr. Batal. Both were good, though I preferred the samosa. While munching, we were told that samosas were made into triangles because they were meant as travelling food. Apparently, the shape makes it easier to pack.
At our next stop, we had a taste of Indian sweets! These sweets were made of milk and a LOT of sugar. We were introduced to different kinds, and we were asked to choose which one we’d like to take. In the end, we just bought them all and ate them at our last stop in the park!
Our sixth stop introduced us to the local Indian way of dining. We were taught to eat with our hands! Our guide Natalie had been in Sri Lanka for 3 years, and demonstrated how it was done. I used to use my hands for eating back at home, too, but it was interesting to know how they did it here. It was also cute for me to see my fellow travellers try it on fish curry!
By our next stop, we were already very full. But then came the showstopper — the lamb! Don’t miss out on this, no matter what. It was lovely, and hands down one of the best parts of the tour.
Finally, we got to rest at the park. Incidentally, this was also the birthplace of the community. It was here that we ate our sweets and went about our merry ways.
It’s always amazing to see how cultures have adapted over borders, but it’s also interesting to see how cultures can be preserved even across time and space. We had a taste of India here in the heart of England, and it was a wonderful experience! When you make your way here, make sure to try it, too!