I’m the first to admit… I’m not a huge fan of London.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s an amazing city, with endless cultural and historical sights to visit, an amazing pub culture, and the added bonus of being an English-speaking city in Europe. But for me, London is too big: I arrive, and before I’ve seen half of what I wanted to see, it’s time to go. My long weekends there from Paris used to be overwhelming, until I decided to stop trying to see the whole city: now, I pick a neighborhood and wander, and I start to understand why London – like Paris and New York – is just another series of small towns masquerading as a big city.
My best friend from Paris moved to London a year after we graduated university, and I immediately started planning several weekends a year there; with the just-over-an-hour long EuroStar ride, it seemed silly not to. It was she who first introduced me to Brick Lane: her apartment was located in this “Little India” of sorts, where the language spoken around us as we walked was, more often than not, not English, and the scents that permeated the air weren’t of fried fish and ale, but cumin, turmeric and coriander.
Most of the Brick Lane population is Bengali. You’ll find Bengali restaurants, sweet shops, and an incredible supermarket called Taj Stores (112 Brick Lane). I like to poke around in the extensive variety of spices, dals and flours, imagining all the possibilities in the kitchen.
While the food is predominantly Bengali in Brick Lane, the availability of produce and ingredients indigenous to most Indian cuisines is extensive, so select what looks interesting to you and start experimenting in the kitchen. To start, try a simple Vegetable Curry. From there, the possibilities are endless!
2 cups dried chana dal (2 15-oz. cans of chickpeas can be substituted)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 spring onions, tough green tops discarded, white part minced and light green thinly sliced
1 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 hot green chili pepper, minced
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. garam masala
1 small can tomato paste
4 carrots, sliced in rounds
Soak the chana dal overnight in cold water, covering the chana by at least two inches. In the morning, rinse the chana dal and cook it in unsalted water for about an hour, until tender.
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the white parts of the spring onion and the salt. Cook, stirring continuously, until slightly colored and softened. Add the garlic, chili pepper and spices. Cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and fry for 1 minute. Fill the tomato paste can with water and deglaze the pan with it, stirring to pull up all of the browned bits.
Add the carrots to the pot, reduce heat to low and cover. Stir occasionally, adding water if necessary to keep the curry from sticking. After about 10 minutes, add the chana to the pot and stir. Cook, uncovered, for about 20 more minutes. Serve with basmati rice and reserved spring onion tops as a garnish.
Emily Monaco is native New Yorker, living and writing in Paris since 2007. She loves discovering new places and, of course, their local cuisines! Read about her adventures in food and travel at tomatokumato.com or follow her on Twitter at @emiglia