Post colonial literature and theory is something I spent a lot of time studying whilst at University and my dissertation, Universal Themes in Postcolonial Texts, Children’s Literature and Colonial Literature Examined through the Bildungsroman Genre, incorporated and analysed many of the ideologies associated with that area of study. One of my favourite post colonial novels, and simultaneously, coming of age novel, was Brick Lane by Monica Ali. It was sad, lost, colourful and encapsulated an area of London so well that it quickly became one of my favourite places in London- even before visiting
When I did visit, it really did live up to the hustle and bustle described. The smells of fragrant curries from the Bangladeshi, Turkish and Iranian restaurants intermingled like the rich multicultural history of the place itself. Brightly coloured mithai (Indian sweets) glittered like jewels in ferocious shades of rose pink and pistachio greens and jalebis dropped into hot oil sizzled and turned orange before being drenched in syrup and placed in the window to entice punters from their competition. Spikey, mysterious fruits, coriander bunches with dirt still clinging to their roots and spices lined racks in cash and carrys with bright yellow sticker labels mismatching the packaging price. Moustachioed thin Asian men in ill-fitting suits try and pull you into their restaurants, asking if you’re “hungry for tandoori chicken“ or with a sing songy “ten pound- good deal!” and Bollywood tunes hum out of the restaurant windows as you stroll along the stretch.
In complete contrast, young students dressed head to toe in black, or tattoos, or beards that hearken back to a more Biblical era clutch canvas totes and bowler hats and sip artisan coffees in the many café’s that line the street too. Vintage shops, graffiti, thrift shops, shops only selling cd’s and headscarves all vie for your attention and this is what makes Brick Lane one of the most iconic places in London for me.
Though famous for their curry-houses run by the largely Bangladeshi community that have now settled in the Brick Lane area, I made the trip that day for a food from another community- the bagel. The Beigel Bakery, famous for its salt beef bagels, is the oldest and first bagel outlet in the UK. Set up by the Jewish Polish community after they flocked to the area during the war, the bagel house has been run by the same family and is open for 24 hours a day. There’s often a queue snaking around the door, but wait- it’s worth it. This place is a bit of an institution on Brick Lane, and after sampling their famous salt beef or smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, it’s very easy to see why. Whether after a drunken night out or for a lunch, these bagels are stuffed to the brim, freshly prepared and great with pickles and mustard. Every bagel is also quality checked by the owner and it’s unbelievably good value. Definitely not London prices! They were amazing. Matt obviously had to order extra bacon on his, i stuck with the classic.
For more history on this iconic bakery- check out this article in Spitalfield’s Life
After wolfing one down, I headed to Taj superstores, stocked up on spices and medjoor dates, popular in the month of Ramadan, and contentedly got the district line all the way back to Hammersmith, excited to eat some pistachio burfi.