London’s most authentic Indian food? – gcfrng

London’s most authentic Indian food? – gcfrng

This unassuming street in North London is the city’s original “Little India,” and nowhere else captures the original South Asian experience like this.
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You could easily overlook Drummond Street. Just west of Euston Station in central London, it’s an unpretentious stretch of townhouses, basements, restaurants, and shops that can be easily reached in a couple of minutes.

But take a closer look, and almost all the restaurants and shops are from South Asia. Menus include South Indian masala dosa (spiced pancakes), Mumbai-style street food, and Lahori lamb skewers; storefronts display South Asian sweets and savory snacks; and there are enough spices, legumes, pickles, pastes and flours to cater for an Indian wedding.

Growing up in London in the 1980s, my family came here in search of what the suburbs still had to offer. Today, more than 30 years later and sitting at Diwana Bhel Poori House, probably the UK’s oldest South Indian vegetarian restaurant and a Drummond Street favorite since 1971, little seems to have changed, from the paneled interior From wood to the paintings on the wall. . The food is still delicious – its chef for 30 years became the owner a decade ago and also runs Chutney’s restaurant, also on Drummond Street.

South Asians have lived in London since the mid-17th century, when the ships of the Colonial East India Company docked in the capital. However, most arrived in the middle of the 20th century; many from post-Partition India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to help rebuild post-war Britain, work in the National Health Service or as diaspora students. The 1960s and 1970s saw the arrival of Asians from East Africa, mainly Punjabis or Gujarati, like my family, exiled or leaving the former British colonies of Kenya and Uganda. In a time of turmoil, change, and occasional racism, Drummond Street was a literal taste of home for the vibrant South Asian community, thanks to a small but growing presence of family-friendly cafes and shops.

Yet despite decades of trading, Drummond Street goes unnoticed. This little street between Regents Park and the British Library is closer to a train station than to a major attraction overshadowed by its more famous counterpart, Brick Lane, near Liverpool Street in the east of the city. There, a much larger number of Bangladeshi restaurants flourished beginning in the 1980s, and their better-known label “Banglatown” is a nod to their former community of residents. But as Brick Lane became popular, the clubs, shops and bars, including those within the ever-expanding Truman Brewery, attracted Londoners and tourists alike, Drummond Street, despite its central location. , it has remained more or less as it was, so many people return to it.

South Asians flock to Drummond Street for fresh, authentic food (Credit: Ajay Shah)
South Asians flock to Drummond Street for fresh, authentic food (Credit: Ajay Shah)

Today, virtually every UK city is home to a South Asian restaurant or takeaway, and the Drummond Street versions evolved in the London suburbs: Southall in West London; Ealing Road from Wembley in the northwest; and Green Street in East London, with grocery stores, saris shops, and dhaba-style cafes (roadside restaurant), but Drummond Street predates them all. Nowhere else is the original South Asian experience captured in the heart of the capital.

Outside the still bright green exterior of Ravi Shankar restaurant, a favorite since 1982, manager Israb Miah remembers the queues from the early days. “People came from Wembley, Southall, even Birmingham and Manchester, before those areas had their own South Asian restaurants,” he told me.

Nowhere else is the original South Asian experience captured in the heart of the capital.
And they still come, he said. “Many are nostalgic, maybe alumni, looking for ‘their old Drummond’.” But they also come for freshly made chaat (street food) dishes, inspired by the street stalls and food carts of Mumbai Chowpatty and Juhu beaches: dishes like crispy poori bhel, puffed rice with vegetables, yogurt and spicy tamarind sauce. ; or aloo chaat, french fries with raw onion, hot sauce, lemon juice, and masala (spices). They come for the dosa, South Indian pancakes stuffed with fermented rice and battered with lentils, served with chutneys; and stew of sambar, lentils and

e popped into an aunty’s house, “Devi said.” And you get the pickles, sides and chutneys you’d get at home. “That’s a common opinion. Whether at Drummond Villa Restaurant, Masala King, Chutney’s, Euston Spice, Taste of India, Shah Tandoori and others, these are family-run places, often with long-standing staff. Many have lived here for decades and gone to school together. It’s not unusual to see them chatting in each other’s doorways.

Drummond Street flies under the radar compared to trendier Brick Lane (Credit: Benjamin John / Alamy)
Drummond Street flies under the radar compared to trendier Brick Lane (Credit: Benjamin John / Alamy)

That’s the story at Raavi Kebab, where I met owner Tehreem Riaz. “We lived above the shop as council tenants before my parents got the lease in 1976,” she told me. “Mum started cooking Lahori Punjabi food. That’s what people love.” Their chef Khalid Jamil arrived from Kashmir in 1985, starting as a 16-year-old kitchen hand. He’s now been cooking Pakistani specialties for 35 years.

As Riaz and I chatted, a customer overheard the conversation and chimed in that he’s been getting his kebab fix here since arriving in London from Pakistan in the 1990s to study law. “This is the food from home,” said barrister Saamir Mahmud. “I always come for Khalid’s slow-cooked nihari lamb. It takes me back to my childhood.”

This ever-present connection between food and home is Drummond Street’s heartbeat. Across the road is Ambala, the street’s oldest, still-running Asian business since 1965 and quasi-legendary in South Asian circles for making the sweets and savouries that are served at everything from lavish weddings to family breakfasts. It’s the fanciest of the street’s shops, with sofa seating, shiny counters and shelves of Ambala-branded pickles and sauces.

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A few doors along at Gupta’s, founded by Ricky and Rakhee Gupta in 1979, trays of samosa (baked, filled pastries), kachori (deep-fried lentil balls), pakora (vegetable fritters) and glistening orange jalebi (sugar-syrup coated sweets ) lure you inside, where you can also sip masala tea or try their creamy, homemade kulfi ice cream.

Drummond Street isn’t exclusively South Asian. There’s the fringe venue Camden People’s Theater, a Chinese restaurant-supermarket, an ice-cream parlor and the Grade II-listed Crown and Anchor pub. Everyday businesses such as hairdressers, pharmacies and convenience stores are reminders this is a living, lived-in neighborhood.

Drummond Streatery is a new al fresco dining set-up that hopes to inject new life into the area (Credit: Ajay Shah)
Drummond Streatery is a new al fresco dining set-up that hopes to inject new life into the area (Credit: Ajay Shah)

Drummond Street also pioneered a global food empire. In the 1950s, the Pathak family started selling samosas from their Kentish Town home a few miles away, helped by 10-year-old son Kirit. In 1958, where the Indian Spice Shop stands today, Kirit’s father L G Pathak opened Pathak’s grocery store – many people, including my father, recollect ordering Indian treats to be delivered to boarding schools or lodgings. This unassuming shop would be the forerunner to the iconic food brand Patak’s (the ‘h’ removed for pronunciation reasons) founded by Kirit Pathak, tragically killed in a car crash in 2021, and his wife Meena. A household name, their jars of curry sauces, lime pickles and mango chutneys line supermarket shelves across the UK and beyond.

Today brings new challenges for the area. Drummond Street, like many, has suffered in the pandemic, but construction work by HS2, who are managing the UK’s new high speed rail network with Euston as its terminus, threatens footfall from the station, street access and parking. The street has received a revitalization grant in recognition of its importance, resulting in the recently launched Drummond Streatery, where colorful street-side cabins allow for al fresco dining; and an August street party with DJs, dancing, street stalls and taster menus.

Other plans include renovating shop fronts, street food festivals, themed nights and festoon lighting to encourage a night-time economy. Planters, created by Global Generation, a local environmental charity connecting young people to nature in urban environments, are also in place.

Words like regeneration and revitalization are often code for gentrification, but “this isn’t about creating a more modern environment; it’s about celebrating what’s here,” Georgie Street, Euston Town’s head of projects, told me as we shared a spinach and cheese dosa and a pile of mithai (sweets) outside Ravi Shankar restaurant.

I think for many people, Drummond Street really is the taste of home
Streets with a story are the soul of a city. Some traders remain worried about business, but there is a sense of optimism, determination and unity. For Riaz, seeing Mahmud still enjoying his nihari lamb, 30 years after he first came as a London law student, is reassuring. “I think for many people, Drummond Street really is the taste of home,” she said. “Food has so much history and brings back so many memories. I feel we’re so blessed to have such a special place in people’s hearts.”

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