Tastes of Banglatown
SWEETS: Misti, made from sugar, flour, endlessly boiled milk and ghee (clarified butter), with flavorings of coconut, rosewater syrup, and pistachio. A must for the sweettoothed Bengali and is often accompanied by many cups of sweet cardamom-laced chai. Is it often eaten at Baishakhi Mela (the Bengali New Year Festival), when breaking the Ramadan fast, at Pujas, or when celebrating birthdays, weddings or welcoming a visitor.
FISH: Find frozen freshwater fish that were recently swimming in the haors (flooded fields) or rivers like the Ganges and Brahmaputra that lace Bangladesh – one of the world’s most important freshwater fisheries. On offer is a wide variety of Bengali fish including Boal maach, Ruhi – mirror carp, Bhag - a large leopard spotted fish, tasty little Keshi, delicious oily Ilish maach (Hilsa) or dried llish or Shidol, a pungent fish and shrimp paste.
VEGETABLES: Vegetables on display include white radish, sweet potato, egg plant, okra, sheem beans, shatkora, a bitter lemony fruit of Sylhet, khacha kola (green plantain), jhinga (ribbed sponge gourd), chalkumra,misti kumra (pumpkins), aamphul (mango flower), kala thur (banana flower) and all sorts of saag (spinach).
CURRY: The Indian curry ranks only second to fish and chips as the most popular food in Britain. Brick Lane has nearly 50 Indian/Bengali restaurants and has been dubbed the ‘Curry Capital’ of the UK. The first Indian curries sold in London were served in West End coffee houses during the 1770s. By 1960 there were 500 Indian restaurants in Britain. Now there are 10,000, employing 80,000 people with a turnover of £2 billion. Most are owned and run by Bengalis. Curry houses serve dishes cooked in a mix of British, Indian and Bengali styles to suit the British taste. Some risk hot Madras or very hot Vindaloo. The universal Anglo-Indian hybrid, chicken tikka masala, bears no resemblance to dishes actually eaten in the Indian Subcontinent. A number of restaurants in Brick Lane now serve more traditional Bengali cuisine with Bengali vegetables and freshwater fish.
This booklet was compiled and written by Dan Jones, a youth worker in Tower Hamlets from 1967, now working for
Amnesty International. It was largely based on research by Daniele Lamarche of Shadinata Trust, and by Jo Skinner, Chris Lloyd and Ansar Ahmed Ullah of Tower Hamlets Council.
Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers, Caroline Adams (THAP Books 1987); Asians in Britain – 400 years of History, Rozina Visram (Pluto Press 2002); Indians in Britain, Rozina Visram(Batsford 1987); The Roots of Subcontinental Cooking, Yousuf Choudhury (Rina Press 2002); Bengalis in East London – a community in the making for 500 Years, Daniele Lamarche (Shadinata Trust 2003); London’s East End – Life and Traditions, Jane Cox (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1994)