April 02, 2004
India in the City

For those who don’t know - there is a small part of London known as “The City”. This is the quick way of referring to the “City of London”. You see - the central region of London is made up of two cities - one is the City of London - and the other is the City of Westminster. The City of London is the “ancient” side of London to the East (pre Roman times) - and the City of Westminster is a more recent phenomenon - 17th century onwards - incorporating what Londoners refer to as the West End.

The way it goes is like this:

  • In the centre you have “The City” (The ancient City of London)
  • To the east of The City - you have the East End.
  • If you go any further east than Walthamstow - then you are in Essex.
  • To the West of the City you have the West End.
  • Any further west of Earls Court - and you are in West London.
  • If you go even further West than West London - you will be in Slough

Now - although “The City” is the most ancient part of London - it’s surprising how the ultra-modern coexists with the ancient. And this is because it’s the centre of London’s financial district; shiny glass buildings tinted in all sorts of colours and hi-tech shapes offer dramatic visual delights as you walk round almost every corner - and it’s amazing how very often - nestling between space-age designs is magnificent classical architecture complete with Latin inscriptions. The City is also very small - only about one square mile - in fact it’s often referred to as “The Square Mile”. Again - this is because the ancient medieval road layout has been preserved - and this is what gives this place enormous character.

The City: ancient London and ultra-modern skyscrapers

Several years ago I used to work in The City - and for several years. Near Moorgate. I used to know the place like the back of my hand.

I had an opportunity to visit The City earlier today - and had around 20 minutes to kill - so I wandered around near the places I used to hang out. And although the roads are still the same - many of the office blocks and shops have changed. I was reminiscing about a particular coffee and croissant shop right across my old office. I used to get a cup of cappucino from there every morning for years. I can’t remember the exact name of the shop - it had a French theme - because the shop used to sell filled baguettes at lunch times as well - and I remember it used to have an icon of a chicken in the logo. Well , I was dismayed to find out the shop isn’t there any more!

In it’s place is an Indian food takeaway shop instead! I walked into the shop - and was consumed by the smell of Indian snacks, the sound of “British” bhangra music playing and a row of smartly suited gentlemen sat on tall stools near the window tucking in to the exotic-looking food laid out in small plastic thalis. There was something very classy about the whole setup. For a start - the food items looked very expensive - and everything was immaculate, consistent and clinically laid out. I didn’t have the time to sample anything - so I had to take off - but I did get left with a very strange feeling: a sort of sadness that the old croissant shop was gone - all mixed up with a feeling of excitement about the high-class Indian fast-food shop that had replaced it.

Tiffinbites - classy Indian fast food shop in the City

Posted by jag at April 02, 2004 11:39 PM

A breakfast-time samosa would be much appreciated in this neck of the woods!

Posted by: Vicky on April 4, 2004 12:19 PM

Poor you! We are spoilt for choice around here. I cannot imagine living anywhere where you cannot pop out to get some freshly made samosas, pakoras etc. I’ll add this to my cooking to-do list.

Posted by: Jag on April 4, 2004 03:15 PM

Please do - the only samosas for miles around come from Asda or Tesco and - frankly - I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole!

Posted by: Vicky on April 4, 2004 09:39 PM

Agree completely - have tried the Asda samosas (not Tesco though) and they’re really very poor substitute for the real thing. To be honest with you - we usually get the ready-made but “unfried” samosas from various Punjabi “wholesale” shops in Southall - buying about 50 at a time (for around 15p each) - and then batch-frying them - and they turn out perfect. It’s a bit laborious making them yourself - but having done it a few times - it’s very theraputic - so I have promised myself to do it sometime soon - just to show how it’s done. It’s important to note that here in UK - there are predominanlty two types of samosa on sale: the Punjabi type - and the Gujarati type. The Punjabi type is usually “thicker” (but not too thick) pastry - and is a larger parcel - with a wholesome spicy mashed potato and peas filling - (e.g. http://www.cmcn.ab.ca/community/catering/images/Cutout%20Samosa.jpg ) or even spicy minced lamb with potato - and the Gujurati type (e.g. http://homepage2.nifty.com/AISHA/images/resipi/aisha_samosa.jpg ) is usually much thinner, crisper (filo) pastry - is much smaller - and has a filling of spicy mashed potato with veg (e.g. carrot) filling - or even dhal (lentil) as well.
Being Punjabi - I much prefer the former over the latter - but where I live, which is a predominantly Gujurati area - I have to travel to Southall a few miles away to get the Punjabi type.
But whatever type - there is nothing more fulfilling than a couple of samosas with mint chutney for a mid-week pre-dinner snack with a glass of red or white wine - or a weekend high-tea with a cup of steaming hot tea to wash it down. Simply delicious!

Posted by: Jag on April 4, 2004 10:36 PM
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