We hear so much about Italy’s culture associated with food, we hear about France’s in the same way. You can name so many Italian dishes off the top of your head and most of the well known extravagant cooking techniques (as well as many basic ones) have strong French connections. We know Indian food for its incredible range of spices and we all love a Chinese takeaway (as much as I, a person of Chinese descent, seriously beg you to think “dim sum” rather than “sweet and sour chicken balls” when I say: iconic Chinese cuisine).
Now, what about England? What’s our food culture? Oh yeah, steak and chips, fish and chips, steak and ale pie… and chips, do any others come to mind? Well the answer should be: many. While the food associated with the English is typically a roasted meat, or a stew, a central part of the identity of England’s history is the sheer diversity of its residence from overseas, each of whom have contributed their own piece to the puzzle of England’s food culture.
Curry is an English word used to indicate a spicy saucy meal, Bolognese as we know it resulted from stewing English meats with Italian herbs, and kebabs are the go-to meal for many piss-heads whilst they meander their way home from a night out. So, with this in mind, let’s have a look at the Evening Standard ‘Night Market,’ which in recognising this, has collated 50 stalls from the best of London’s many local restaurants and street vendors.
“I could probably make a broth of the same taste and quality with the ingredients in my cupboard right now”
Honestly it’s somewhat overwhelming when you first enter the festival because there’s so many stalls, far more choice than one can sample in one day when on a student budget! So I’ll describe the 4 items I’d sampled. The first up was Chinese stall ‘Leon’s Legend’, promising bao buns filled with pork belly, or straight up chunks of pork belly in a sweet and savoury sauce; there was also an aubergine substitute for the veggies. I tried the pork belly pieces. The meat was tender and the sauce very flavoursome, in terms of the dish being offered, there were no complaints here.
That being said, at a food festival I personally look for interesting flavours that I wouldn’t usually come across and I regret to say I could probably make a broth of the same taste and quality with the ingredients in my cupboard right now. It would probably have benefited this stall to perhaps offer a few extra, perhaps, more unusual dishes rather than restricting to 3 or 4 reliably safe options.
Next, was the ‘Nat.Ive’ stall. I really like this stall on principle, they took a risk! They only had one option as far as I was aware which was a Wood Pigeon Kebab served on a freshly made Pita, with a Beetroot Relish and ‘micro salad’ including Coriander, Shallots, and Yoghurt. It’s a turkish take on a somewhat scrutinised local British meat, one that I feel gets such a bad reputation because of those fatter sodding Pigeons, flying about with clogged arteries in England’s town/city centres.
Upon taking the first bite, you experience a mild hit of iron which mellows into a sweet meaty taste. The sharp taste of the shallot is next which cuts through the rich meat with its acidic finish and then the sugar of the Beetroot Relish and the cooling Yoghurt rounds the whole experience off nicely. With these I had lattice chips which were seasoned with pine salt, the crisp outer crust followed by a light inner was complimented by the woody aroma of the salt.
“The flavours are nothing like anything (who isn’t or hasn’t experienced first-hand Indian cuisine) will have tried”
Finally, I visited ‘Cinnamon Bazar’, who served a variety of chaat (a dish consisting of boiled vegetables and/or fruit flavoured with spice and yoghurt). I ordered the Dahi Bhalla Chaat and the Aloo Tikki Chaat. The Dahi Bhalla consisted mainly of lentils, chana and whisked curds then topped with yoghurt; this was perhaps the most interesting dish I’d tried in the entire day.
This dish will probably play on my mind for a while because the textures were, well, weird. You had soft tender daals of varying kind which gave the only real texture! Beyond that there was the smooth soured taste of the curds which were cut by the sweet acidity of chutney. I enjoyed because it’s exactly what I came to this festival for. It’s interesting, the flavours are nothing like anything (who isn’t or hasn’t experienced first-hand Indian cuisine) will have tried. The Aloo Tikki Chaat was very earthy, spicy and quite filling, it perfectly contrasted the Dahi Bhalla which was pleasing. If I were sat in a restaurant and had to order between the two I’d probably choose the Aloo; but it wouldn’t have been an easy choice.
My overall summary of the festival? It was fun! Additionally, I found it encouraging to see so many people having arrived to sample the food on offer, right here in London.
Images courtesy of Jake Tenn