Well, it seems that my adventures in Asia have come to a close (for now), and I’m back in the USA writing about them from the comfort of my parents’ kitchen. On the way back from the Far East, I stopped over in London to visit a few friends, so naturally I had to chronicle my culinary conquests as I made my way through the same streets of Jack the Ripper and Tiny Tempah.
The first day was relatively laid back in terms of food experimentation as I made my way to my friend Ravi’s flat in the notoriously rough but currently trendy East End of London around Bow Road. This area was also known for its Cockney subculture and signature accent which has been made famous in popular culture through plays like Pygmalion, or through the award winning actor, Michael Caine. Unfortunately, the neighborhood’s traditional pickled whelks and jellied eels were a bit hard to find, so I instead tried some of Ravi’s home cooking which was wonderful. He made me a vegetarian shepherd’s pie that seemed to consist of tomato sauce, lentils, beans, carrots, peppers, potatoes, and cheese on top. It was filling, spicy, and savory which made my taste buds happy since I normally don’t go for vegetarian fare.
However, the funnier part of the meal was the drink I had. When I first arrived at his apartment, he asked me if I wanted something to drink like water, tea, or squash…squash? I assumed he meant that he would take out some butternut squash and turn them into juice, so I opted for water. Dinnertime rolled around, and he offered me this mystery squash to drink again. So, I decided to give it a go. He proceeded to bring out what looked like a big bottle of fruit juice. He then poured a small amount into my glass and filled the rest up with water. It tasted just like it advertised as a soft blend of strawberry and kiwi. Turns out the actual squash is just a fruit concentrate with no gourds involved. Hooray for regional dialects! Then for dessert, I had another cultural clash as Ravi’s roommate, Jaime, offered me a Milky Way bar. I love Milky Way bars in the US, so I gratefully accepted it.
After I bit into it, I was a bit taken aback by the contents since it lacked the caramel present in American Milky Way bars. Instead, it was like a 3 Musketeers bar since there was only chewy nougat enveloped in chocolate. Either way, it was a fitting end to a delicious meal.
The following day, I was out and about seeing the sights London had to offer. For lunch, I did stop at Pizza Express, one of London’s most ubiquitous restaurant chains serving pizza and other Italian dishes, I didn’t feel like it really warranted an in-depth review. Instead, I’ll bring you an even better chain that was introduced to me back in 2006 compliments of my friend Rav. We were talking about fried chicken in America, and he told me of this place called “Nando’s” in London which he described as, “KFC but they don’t ba’a (batter in East London-ese) it” and had “peri-peri sauce”. Given these random descriptions and my friend’s clear passion for this mysterious eatery, I vowed one day to try it. Fast forward to 2008, and I finally made my pilgrimage with my friends to Nando’s. Needless to say, I could see why Rav was bonkers about it as Nando’s serves roasted Portuguese/Mozambican chicken. You have the option of choosing a quarter chicken, half chicken, or wings with optional sides. They also have salads, burgers, pittas, and wraps. On this occasion I went for the half chicken, a side of chips (fries for Amurika), and some macho peas. Once I ordered my food, I went to the sauce bar which has bottles that range from a pleasant lemon and herb to a mouth-scorching extra-spicy in an ominous black bottle. The “peri-peri” Rav mentioned back in our college days means “bird’s eye pepper”, and there is a whole lot of it in said extra-spicy sauce.
As for the actual food, the chicken is excellently prepared with plenty of semi-spicy marinade coating the juicy and pure white meat that just barely clings to the bone. The macho peas were an interesting choice since they were peas seasoned with parsley, mint, and chili which unfortunately tasted like I was consuming minty peas sans chili. While I like both elements separately, I think they should tinker with the ratio of spices to make this pedestrian side something special. I’m more partial to their garlic bread side that not only is very garlicky but crunchy and pliable at the same time. Their chips are good but nothing that will knock your socks off. Come for the chicken and stay for the sauce, that’s what I’d recommend. We ended our night with a couple of pints at the Horniman Pub on the Thames River as we watched Tottenham Hotspur cruise to victory, and I went to bed a very satisfied Yank.