Jackfruits and bagels
Today I would like to start raising a question, how is it possible that you can find a fruit only in one neighbourhood in the whole city of London?
I couldn’t believe so when S asked me the big favour of getting a jackfruit in Brick Lane… (I’m sorry for the ignorance here but I couldn’t help but wondering, what is a jackfruit?). This was definitely another pursuit of the Golden Fleece, but this time I wasn’t thrilled of crossing the seven hells of the underground to get the exotic trophy.
For those of who don’t know where Brick Lane is, let me tell you: it’s far away. That’s the only thing you need to know for now.
Well, it’s not that far away but it really is a pain-in-the-arse journey to get there, unless you live nearby in now-cool East London area. And because I don’t live nearby, only hearing the sentence “it’s in Brick Lane” makes me feel tired.
However, I thought that moaning wasn’t going to help me either, so I gave myself a little challenge and a big reward for the mission.
The challenge would be finding out the reason why I could only find jackfruits in that area and nowhere else in London. London has everything, almost everywhere, so I needed to find an explanation!
And what about the reward?
Well, every time I go to Brick Lane there is something I always long for: the best bagel (or beigel) in the city, with salted beef, English mustard and gherkins. Yummy.
Once I set all up, I started to do my research on Brick Lane – one of the things that amazes me about London is that every neighbourhood has a fascinating history on its own. I decided to dig deeper the background of this particular area, and to my great surprise I found out that my challenge and my reward were much more connected than I expected.
You may be wondering, how is it possible that a jackfruit and a bagel may be remotely connected?
Well, the answer is a common history.
Even though the Brick Lane and Shoreditch areas are becoming the trendy side of the city, where artists, designers, architects or illustrators would gather around with their laptops at fashionable cafés with fancy cupcakes -or rip-off vintage shops- it hasn’t always been like that. In fact, this area has always been quite the opposite. Back in the 70s, the first wave of immigrants from Bangladesh – after becoming independent in 1971, came to London and settled down in Brick Lane due to its low rent prices.
Ever since the 1970s Brick Lane has also been known as ‘Banglatown’, and it was famous for being the area where you could have the best curry in London. Now I could understand why jackfruits can only be found in here.
But, you may be thinking, this doesn’t have anything to do with bagels!
This is when history takes place in my story. Before the Bangladeshis, there was the Jewish community, which occupied Brick Lane back in the 19th century until the 1930s. This is actually the reason why the famous Brick Lane market takes place on Sundays since the 1800s, in order to respect the resting day on Saturday – or Shabbat.
How surprising London can be sometimes.
Once I got there I could actually perceive the first signs of gentrification, when I bumped into a luxury real state window-shop and the first thing I saw was one of the offers: 1 bedroom apartments for 575/week… mind-blowing. Clearly not the lowest rent you can find.
Next to it there were a couple of family businesses selling leather goods and fabrics, and while walking towards one of the supermarkets, avant-garde designer shops, pink neon lights and a very attractive – and expensive, chocolate shop. Curry places are still there, and they still – all in a row, defend they are the best you can find in London…
However, what fascinated me the most was the supermarket.
From my European perspective, I hadn’t seen so many and exotic fruits and vegetables in a city like London, with names I haven’t ever read in my life: bendi, koffi, cholita, pord, guri, katalbisi… culture is reflected everywhere and food is one of the main catalysts. Looking at them, I promised myself I would l try some typical recipes with those ingredients.
Unfortunately, after all the research, the journey and the expedition, my mission to find a jackfruit ended in a bittersweet way as I couldn’t find any fresh jackfruit, only canned. Dammit.
To reward myself for the mission, I walked all the way up with my canned jackfruit to the beginning of the lane so I could get my beloved reward. It didn’t let me down. The homemade, freshly baked bagel and the delicate salted beef gave made all the effort worth it… If only I had it nearer!