For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

September 19, 2012

Massive Goodness

So I went to London last week for a four-day-long mini holiday to meet a dear friend, a new friend to be and to eat as much as my belly, appetite and wallet would allow me. Prior to my trip, my only experience of England foodwise had been a week at youth camp in Kent and a very hectic afternoon on Oxford Street when I was a teenager. Safe to say, neither youth camp in Kent nor Oxford Street had much to offer in that domain.

My intention isn’t to insult anyone or anything, but England, a lot like Finland, even though for different reasons, isn’t one of the countries that come in mind when thinking about amazing gastronomy. Because I’m a Finn and I know for a fact that my country has been underestimated and undervalued over and over and over again when it comes to food, I didn’t want to get caught up in the cliché of English food only being bad, heavy and greasy. On the other hand, London can’t really be sided with the rest of the country, as in this transcultural metropolis with just under 8 million inhabitants, you really can find whatever food you could possibly imagine eating. I can’t say for certain, but at first sight it sure seemed that the actual English food was rather underrepresented.

The most British food I tried.

Already on the three-hour flight from Helsinki to London, I learned that the word to use in London is ‘massive’ and the food to eat is curry. I wanted to arrive a.s.a.p.! I was curious, impatient and hungry for my first London experience (the previous one doesn’t count). As soon as the plane landed and I had barely made it through passport control, an older Englishman already came up to me and wanted to buy me a fish and chips and a G&T. It must’ve been written on my forehead that I was both hungry and thirsty and I almost accepted his kind offer, but I was in hurry to get to my friend’s house, so I politely declined.

Actually, it was my friend’s friend’s house, to be precise. Such details are unnecessary, the only thing you need to know is that I was hosted by two very lovely Bulgarian women, Plamena – an ex-colleague and a dear friend and Yana – Plamena’s old friend, who has been living in England for a while now and who also, to my contentment, turned out to be quite a foodie and a living London encyclopedia. What I know about Bulgarian food isn’t nearly enough, but let’s say that I had already been convinced by the country’s culinary potential, and thus had certain food-related expectations. When the girls greeted me at the train station, their hair smelled of oven-baked peppers. Very Bulgarian and very delicious, I couldn’t wait to dine! However, a part of me wanted to know British food.  But something that I almost immediately understood about the culinary scene in London was that it’s all about multiculturality at its finest. Suddenly, having a Bulgarian dinner didn’t feel that off track at all. It in fact, it fit like a glove and I ate with great pleasure.

Beigles and 'fika' – world's apart but next door neighbors on Brick Lane.

And then, an hour later, Lao/Thai street food.

It’s funny when people who love food meet. It’s like nothing else has any importance and everything revolves around food. After dinner, very full and very content, Yana took me through London’s divers districts on the map, “This place is great, there’s … Oh and there’s this amazing café that has massive pie that are just too good to be true”. I’m absolutely awful with maps and directions, but somehow, I managed to follow. It was easy; there was always some ‘you have to try it’ food-related twist to each place. I’d just have to follow my strongest inner drive – my appetite and I’d stay on track for sure. I hadn’t seen anything yet, but London already seemed like my kind of city.

The next day, I got up inhumanly early. Must have food! On the double decker bus with The Smiths singing in my ears, I had made sure to have a travel snack in my rucksack. The little organic deli at Herne Hill had delighted me with home-made flapjacks, fresh plums (from Kent!) and aubergine and tahini salad.  With a fork in my pocket, a map with plenty of yummy destinations pointed out all over London in my hands, I was good to go. I know I often tell you how excited and psyched I am when I’m living life through my many culinary adventures, but what else can I say?! I guess food simply has that intoxicatingly exuberant effect on me. And to describe it another way would be a lie. And I love it! So there I was, in London, the sun was shining, I had a map and good food in my immediate reach, good music that I had downloaded for the occasion (80’s hits) on my iPod, I could only be excited, psyched, high on life, ecstatic and beyond! Even though I’ve traveled a lot since I was a child, this was my very first time to be discovering a huge city solo. Plamena and Yana both had work to do, so I promised I’d eat for all three of us.

I'm not a beer drinker at all, but this was divine and as local as it gets. The brewery was located next door.

One of the sexiest fruits. Also one of my favorites. 

Pop-up street food in Shoreditch.

During the four days I spend eating my way through London, like any good Finn, I firmly kept my promise to the girls: Pop-up street food, grilled burgers, vegan burgers, Jamaican chicken jerk, Brixton Market, Dalston Market, Brick Lane Market, Borough Market (where I cried happy tears when I found a young and charming baker who sold gluten free and sugar free banana loaf cake), countless cafés and bars, pubs, deli stores, China town, meat pies, cheese, fruit, fish and chips… I don’t think I’d exaggerate if I told you that there wasn’t a moment where I didn’t eat, wasn’t on my way to eat or wasn’t planning on going somewhere to eat. How I managed all that eating? I walked. You must think I’m crazy, which I probably am, but seriously, London is totally doable on foot. Sometimes I had to cheat and hop on one of those massive red busses, but it was like a joy ride. I always, except once, got the first row seat with the big window on the second floor. Nice and touristy.

Meet my beloved...

...baked in this bakery.

I must say, the city offered my appetite and I an unforgettable culinary stimulation. Not only will London make you feel like you’re in about twenty countries at once, but you’ll be able to eat in all of them too! What’s amazing is that the many immigrant communities are so well established foodwise that you’ll really get that authentic and genuine feel of the countries’ food cultures.

Very tasty. Brits make good cheese.

A favorite? I don’t know if I could pick favorites out of my many yummy London discoveries, but there was one I’ve never done before. A very well-informed and well-eating Londoner called this place the best Pakistani restaurant in town, “You know how people tell you to have curry here, well this is even better!” How could I resist? This place called Tayyabs, located on 83-89 Fieldgate Street London E1 1JU, is a stone’s throw away from Brick Lane. Tayyabs serve amazingly delicious food, but no alcohol. Bringing your own is allowed though. Not that you need alcohol, but for a Finn to be told to bring your own booze to a nice restaurant felt so impossible, illegal even. When in Rome…

An absolutely gorgeous plate of grilled meat.

I made my way to the restaurant from Brick Lane together with Plamena on my last evening in London. The map we had didn’t show further East from Whitechapel, so the rest of the way we had to follow the delicious smell of grilled tandoori. With a plastic bag containing two big ice cold Magners we entered foodie heaven. We ate. We ate again. And we ate more. The waiter couldn’t believe his ears when we ordered a second round.  I really don’t need to praise the food further. It honestly speaks for itself. Go and try it!

Ready for more!

In the end, I didn’t have curry, but I damn sure can say London offers massive goodness!

1 comment:

  1. Great writing again my darling, I am really proud of you.


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