The beginning of the week was return to Uni time for The New Londoner. I piled all his clean laundry and tech equipment into the boot of the car and packaged up a Coca Cola cooked ham and a bottle of wine to take back with him. I know bread, milk and eggs would have been more sensible, but there really is nothing like the Nigella ham.
I knew this would be an opportunity to re-visit Brick Lane. An old student haunt of wonderful vintage, genuine beigels (bagels) and now fabulous Bangladeshi restaurants. This one street illustrates the diversity in communities in London, each leaving a little of itself on the way. The Flemish who brought brick making and brewing, then the silk weaving Hugenots in the 17th century, leaving elegant rows of Georgian town houses.
The Irish arrived, fleeing from poverty and persecution and joined the expanding tailoring and weaving industries in the area. The Yiddish jews then found refuge, bringing hat making, button making and the furrier trade.
For years this was a centre of the ‘rag trade’. I remember, during my first design job, coming here to have mother of pearl buttons dyed. That trade has gone now, along with the furriers, hatters and button makers, but a few of the salt beef shops and infamous Kosher bagel bakeries still survive.
Brick lane is now home to Bangladeshis, filled with the aroma of spices, sounds of Bangla rock, vibrant neon signs and fragrant curry houses. At night, alive with ‘pullers’ each telling you that theirs is the best food in town. This is the south end of Brick Lane -Banglatown.
Although only a mile long this is a street of such diversity that it feels much larger than that. At the north end are the private clubs with roof terraces and spas. Haunts of the celebs such as Sienna Miller, victoria Beckham and Madonna had a birthday party here. Despite the gentrification this is the end that is most like the Lane of 50 years ago. Still hosting the market, that the jewish community were given dispensation from Sunday trading laws to run. A thriving secondhand affair, open both Saturday and Sunday, selling everything from furniture and jewellery to bicycles and boots and a host of vintage.
This time, I discovered the Taj Stores. An immense double fronted supermarket supplying, easily, both the restranteurs and the public. Red and cream on the outside with a huge, wall filling neon sign on the inside. This store promised a plethora of exploring. Long aisles of spices in small tubs and large bags. Multi coloured sacks of rice and flour.
Enormous chest freezers filled with huge slabs of whole fish the size of small tuna, most of which I didn’t recognise and the names made it no clearer, Chital, Boal, Ayer and Mrigal all local Bangladeshi fish. A vast choice of prawns, boxed and frozen, from the ridiculously large to the tiny and sweet. Shells on, shells off, all perfect for currying. The Halal butcher standing behind his counter with arms crossed, watched the customers meandering through the vast choices of oil, and gold and green tins of gee as large as a stock pots and small as cans of beans.
If it is stock pots you’re after, they’re stacked at the back of the store, shelves of them, five high, pyramiding to the ceiling starting with one that could hide a small child and topped with one that would fit on my hob. This is the start of rummaging in bright coloured plastic baskets, heaps of stainless steel, glass topped spice tins. Some as small as thinbles and some made to fit spice collection tins, on the shelves above. Dangling ladles and serving spoons hang above crates of chapatti rolling pins. Towers of dull grey granite mortar and pestles, contrast with the shiny teapots stacked above.
This store isn’t only about the bagged and frozen, but also stocks an array of fresh fruit and vegetables. Chow Chow, like huge buds from the man eating plant in the Little Shop Of Horrors movie.
Chilta, which look like a squash, Turia, which I think are bitter melon, large white beans the size of small shallots, long beans, spinach and tomatoes.
Dark purple, fresh green and bright red all reflected in the woven stools balanced three high and six wide in the window.
This is a street of such lively variation, with fashion food and vintage for everyone. Well worth exploring. Brick Lane Market Sunday 8-3. Shops and restaurants open all week
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