When people think of London, they think London Eye, Big Ben and all your other normal touristy joints. When I think of London, I think of Whitechapel, amongst one of the dodgiest areas in London (Thats what people tell me!) that has played host to the most famous Whitechapeler of all, Jack the Ripper.
Perhaps this luminary cemented Whitechapel’s place as a ‘special’ part of town, but really, it is a diverse, multi-ethnic area of London where you have congregations of immigrants from all over the world. Yes, the streets are dangerous at night (Drunkards, drug addicts and pushers), but you could say that of any other street in the UK. Well, we lived in front of Sainsbury, right next to the IdeaStore and along the stretch of the famous Whitechapel ethnic day market across Royal London Hospital. Therefore, you could say it was in the safer part of WC that we went about our daily lives.
Besides having been the CENTRE of Britain’s H1N1 epidemic, this is also the home to the Bell Foundry, where Big Ben came from. These historical streets have seen everything from serial killers to mob hits and more recently, Chinese people touting pirated DVDs.
Brick Lane happens to be just down the road (20 mins walk) from Aldgate Station and is home to the famous Brick Lane market and the interesting shops that throng the area. I’d avoid the ‘curry mile’ of Indian restaurants serving up lip-smacking portions of ‘Chicken Diarrhea’, and head straight for them Beigels.
NY’ers say Bagel, Brick Laners say Beigel, and just like in 1773′s argument over a cuppa, there will be no end of the ‘our bagel is better than your beigel’ argument. For those like me who believe in the truth of St Wiki, here’s a treatise on Beigels.
Whichever is better, I don’t really care, for as long as they are made with love and not some factory using more E-numbered ingredients that a cat has whiskers on its face, I’m there. Here, at Beigel Bake, as in most Bagel joints, they’ve got different flavours but our sole agenda was to scoff down a Salt Beef Beigel. I got them hunger pangs now dammit! But first, to the Bagel…..
Starting with nothing more than good bread flour, salt, yeast, water and perhaps some oil, these mounds of dough are traditionally fermented very slowly for religious reasons (Apparently, according to St Wiki). However, of more interest to foodies, a slow fermentation = flavour, as them yeasties and other processes of fermentation condition the dough with flavour and organic acids (i.e., yeast and bacterial shit). This guy is heaving large rounds of dough onto a dividing plate for an automated bun dividing machine.
After shaping and final proofing, the beigels are boiled on both sides in a hot water bath. Not being familiar with the beigel making process, it might be plausible that temperatures and alkalinity of this water solution plays a big part in the finished product. I just love the pride in the eyes of all the people in the bakery.
If just plainly boiled, the bagel would be a tasteless, soggy affair, so into the oven it goes to firm up the surface and more importantly, to give it a nice golden sheen that contributes so much to the wonderful beigel aroma. Maillard reactions rule!
Huge chunks of salt beef straight from the boiler make their debut dramatically at the front of the shop, luring all passersby into a lurid bovine fantasy. These brined sides of brisket have been boiled till they are fall-apart tender and so damn bloody irresistable. The knife cuts through them like butter, making the wait for your order seem unbearably long.
In the great British tradition, a healthy dollop of horseradish and mustard sauce lubricates the whole assembly. Packed in a nondescript, brown paper bag, the uninitiated would not be faulted for wondering why every other person walking down Brick Lane seems to have one in hand.
Here’s my mate, TF, shoving it down his face. Dense and chewey beigel gives way to a savoury, soft and flakey beef brisket punctuated with spikes of piquancy. The only thing that was missing from this ensemble was a pint of beer!
159 Brick Lane, London, E1 6SB
Open 24 Hours
Nearest Tubes: Aldgate East, Shoreditch, Liverpool Street, Old Street