Discover Bangladeshi tradition and delicacies alongside London's Brick Lane

Brick Lane is known for its classic boutiques, vibrant road artwork and bagel outlets, which command lengthy traces across the clock.

But it is usually the heartland of the UK’s Bangladeshi group and has even been renamed “Banglatown” by the native council, a title emblazoned in Bengali on the gate on the southern entrance to the east London enclave. 

One of many first stuff you’ll see while you enter Brick Lane is a mural by Mohammed Ali Aerosol commemorating Bangladesh’s fiftieth anniversary of independence in 2021 © Meadhbh McGrath / Lonely Planet

Beneath the English indicators alongside the thoroughfare, plaques bear the Bengali names for every road, whereas the lampposts are painted in inexperienced and pink, the colours of the Bangladesh flag. The Banglatown archway stands subsequent to a mural by Mohammed Ali Aerosol commemorating Bangladesh’s fiftieth anniversary of independence final 12 months and highlighting the shut bond between London and Sylhet, a metropolis in northeastern Bangladesh.

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Amidst the glut of specialty espresso outlets, stylish secondhand shops and luxurious developments, Banglatown has made its mark. Tharik Hussein, a author who labored on Lonely Planet’s new Experience London guide, grew up close to Brick Lane and emphasizes the specificity of the Bangladeshi individuals primarily based right here.

The street signs throughout Brick Lane feature plaques with the Bengali names for each street
The road indicators all through Brick Lane function plaques with the Bengali names for every road © Meadhbh McGrath / Lonely Planet

Tracing the Bangladesh areas of Brick Lane

“The group isn’t simply Bangladeshi, they’re really from a really distinct nook of Bangladesh, the Sylhet area,” he says, explaining that they got here to east London within the Nineteen Sixties, the place they discovered work within the Jewish-owned textile factories round Brick Lane. 

Sylhetis communicate their very own language, Sylheti Nagri, which is what you’ll usually hear in Brick Lane’s Indian eating places — so-called, Hussein notes, as a result of “Bangladesh was both not born when the eating places had been being made, or no one knew what Bangladeshi meals was”.

“Indian meals had the romantic attachment of the British Raj, however it wasn’t really Indian meals — it was this sort of anglicized model of Indian meals. One thing just like the rooster tikka masala was utterly made up,” he says.

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Rooster tikka masala: “a British nationwide dish” 

Whereas the group is happy with the success of its meals — even rooster tikka masala, which the UK’s then overseas secretary Robin Cook dinner referred to as “a real British nationwide dish” in 2001 — there’s a rising motion to advertise extra genuine Bangladeshi delicacies. Hussein observes that the rise of such eateries is akin to the Indian restaurant increase after the Second World Struggle, when kitchens sprung up providing conventional home-style meals to newly arrived migrants.

“Meals is among the key methods by which we connect with our identification and heritage, and for British Bangladeshis, it’s such a major a part of our identification, particularly given the affect we now have on the culinary scene on this nation. It’s like, we’re happy with it, however it’s not our meals, so let’s put our meals on the desk and see the place it goes.”

These early eating places supplied employees a style of residence, however right now’s kitchens cater to the second and third generations, who could not know the right way to cook dinner such meals or won’t have tried it earlier than.

“It’s an emotional connection to the motherland that (the brand new era) have gotten additional and additional away from — not simply geographically, however from an identification perspective. A lot of them pine for the motherland, and likewise, from a Brick Lane perspective, that is the Sylhetis reclaiming the place,” Hussein explains.

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In 2007, Tower Hamlets council designated Brick Lane a vacationer space with a “inventive and cultural focus.” Amidst hovering rents and shiny overhauls of Brick Lane’s historic buildings, native companies and residents grew involved that the neighborhood was being stripped of its distinctive character. In accordance with a report by the Runnymede Belief, the borough had essentially the most gentrification in London between 2010 and 2016. Hussein, nevertheless, is optimistic about relations between the Bangladeshi group and the newcomers. 

“These tensions are slowly beginning to discover a center floor. That is our manner of claiming: That is our place as nicely. We’re comfortable to share it, however that is our house,” he notes. “We’re additionally saying we might be happy with our meals as nicely, not simply the meals we’ve made for vacationers.”

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The exterior of Graam Bangla on Brick Lane, London
The outside of Graam Bangla, Hussein’s favourite restaurant within the space © Meadhbh McGrath / Lonely Planet

Hussein’s favourite Brick Lane restaurant and what to order

There’s little doubt this delight is well-placed — nestled in the course of Brick Lane is Hussein’s favourite restaurant, Graam Bangla, which chef Atikur Rahman explains means “my village.” Rahman is a celebrated TV chef, and welcomes friends warmly by encouraging us to be adventurous and “eat together with your fingers as a result of the fish have bones!” 

Hussein factors out that that is no Dishoom: the menu is crammed with dishes particular to Sylhet and the northeast area, such which you can’t even discover them in different components of Bangladesh, not to mention the UK. Some comprise components chances are you’ll not have heard of, like shatkora, a citrus fruit with a thick rind and a bitter style. 

Rahman wasn’t kidding when he urged an adventurous urge for food: the cooks are beneficiant with entire bullet chilies, and though Rahman has tailored the dishes considerably for his rising market, Hussein warns that “the fish seems to be like fish.” “As in a whole lot of these sorts of rural cuisines, you don’t waste something,” he notes.

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A feast of food on Brick Lane at chef Atikur Rahman's Graam Bangla
TOP: A feast of meals on Brick Lane at chef Atikur Rahman’s Graam Bangla; FROM BOTTOM LEFT:

The fish dishes are Sylheti delicacies, such because the hearty boal maas catfish curry or the spicy broth, made with mashed potato, fermented fish and pure mustard oil for an additional kick. There are additionally scrumptious lamb chops in curry sauce, subsequent to mouthwatering begun (eggplant) and keema aloo, a flavor-packed dish of minced meat and potatoes. 

“Discover it’s a ‘mum recipe’ — you’ll find precisely this meals in Bangladesh. Should you ask for rooster tikka masala, they are going to say ‘what the hell is that this?’ These are our genuine mums’ recipes we comply with,” says Rahman. As Hussein places it, “the remainder of us must both ask our moms to show us or come right here.”

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The restaurant zone is a significant draw for the world, but there may be way more to Banglatown than its curries. Hussein factors to the Brick Lane Mosque, which has what he calls the nation’s “hippest minaret,” a 29m-high landmark containing color-changing LED lights. “It has the North African geometric patterns, however similar to a lava lamp at night time, it glows all completely different colours. I’ve by no means seen a minaret that does that!” says Hussein. “If you’re sitting on the trendiest road in London, I assume it’s solely becoming.”

There’s additionally the Kobi Nazrul Centre, a cultural hub named after the insurgent poet. For the reason that Eighties, it has supported native Bengali arts and right now performs host to quite a lot of exhibitions, performs and heritage initiatives.

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For fast bites, there’s the Sunday Upmarket, which Hussein notes has the most important number of halal meals stalls in London, and out of doors, you possibly can roam the flea market, which Hussein remembers was a significant useful resource for the primary era of Bangladeshis in Brick Lane. “It was very a lot one thing that my group relied on, as a result of after they first arrived, the lads had virtually no cash,” he says.

In addition to celebrating the historic, cultural and culinary contributions Bangladeshis have made within the space, Banglatown remembers the struggling the group has endured. A couple of minutes from the entry gate, you can find Altab Ali Park, named after the 25-year-old Sylheti textile employee who was murdered by racists in 1978, and whose dying sparked a motion locally to battle again in opposition to fascists. 

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Martyrs' Monument at Altab Ali Park
Martyrs’ Monument at Altab Ali Park © Meadhbh McGrath / Lonely Planet

The park contains a reproduction of a memorial in Dhaka generally known as the Shaheed Minar or Martyrs’ Monument, a placing summary illustration of a mom surrounded by her fallen sons, earlier than a pink dot harking back to the Bangladesh flag and symbolizing the blood of the martyr. The unique was inbuilt reminiscence of lives misplaced through the Struggle of Independence in 1971.

“It’s been erected right here to honor Altab Ali, but additionally provides us an area the place we will come domestically to commemorate Independence Day and to commemorate others who’ve fallen,” Hussein explains. 

It’s all a part of the wealthy heritage that Banglatown is devoted to honoring and preserving. Following the acknowledgment by the council, Hussein hopes that Brick Lane will turn into considered one of many Banglatowns in city districts worldwide. “As a result of it’s formally acknowledged now, I believe over time, you’re gonna see that changing into way more of a theme, in the best way we see Chinatown as a theme the world over.”

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