Feast and Mishti

Out of the two months I spent in Europe, three weeks were dedicated to an English Literature course, which focused on contemporary British literature set in London. Our group project for this course consisted of visiting the areas of London in which these books had been set, taking our entire class to these areas, and discussing how our sense of place affected our interpretation of the novels. One of our course texts was Monica Ali’s 2001 novel Brick Lane whose protagonist, Nazneen, is a Bangladeshi immigrant who settles in London, on, of course, Brick Lane.

Brick Lane is the heart of the Bangladeshi immigrant population in London, which is reflected in the novel. Nazneen’s social circle consists mostly of other Bangladeshi immigrants and their families, and it appears entirely possible that a Bangladeshi immigrant could live there for years without acquiring proficiency in the English language.

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When visiting Brick Lane, I could easily experience this culture, through the businesses and people present on the streets. Apparently Brick Lane is also home to a growing hipster population, which created an interesting combination. Among other things, Brick Lane is also world-famous for its graffiti, which includes work by Banksy, a famous British graffiti artist. I’m not a huge fan of graffiti, but when it’s done so beautifully (that tentacled elephant particularly), you can’t help but be awed by it.

Each presentation ended with lunch at a predetermined restaurant, and of course for Brick Lane, we had the chance to sample some authentic Bangladeshi food, at a mixed Bangladeshi/Indian restaurant called Feast & Mishti, which gladly accommodated our large group.

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First to arrive was complimentary Papadum, served with what I initially assumed were three authentic South Asian sauces, but ended up being chili sauce, ketchup, and mayonnaise. The papadum itself was crunchy and light, a perfect, not-too-filling way to start our meal. I preferred to eat it without the sauces. The mayonnaise looked so white that it didn’t seem real, and the chili sauce was simply quite sour, with only a slight spiciness.

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I tend not to indulge in drinks (alcoholic or otherwise) when I’m out for dinner. I always feel like sticking to water is a good option since drinks tend to be overpriced at many restaurants, with what I deem to be empty calories. However, when I’m on vacation…it’s a different story. I chose to indulge in a Mango Lassi (£2.50). The one here was nice and thick, with a good balance between the yogurt and mango flavours. It was an ideal drink for the hot London summer, and I liked how it was neither too sweet nor too tart, which is often a problem I have with fruit-based drinks. A couple weeks later, I tried another mango lassi while having lunch at the Borough Market, and I much preferred the version I was served here. The second version was too thick and didn’t have enough mango flavour, and tasted simply like drinking yogurt. I’m not a huge fan of mangoes, but this was a refreshing accompaniment to my meal.

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Shawarma (which is, just to be clear, the alias of one of my fellow diners, as opposed to the actual food) was brave enough to try out the Rui Mach Bhuna (£4.99), a traditional Bangladeshi dish consisting of rui fish and onions cooked in a sort of chili sauce. Shawarma remarked that it was quite a spicy dish, and much spicier than the chili sauce served alongside the papadum. Still, she quite enjoyed her dish, and it ended up being one of the better dishes enjoyed at our table. Maybe we should have all tried out some of the Bangladeshi dishes, instead of sticking to the more familiar Indian dishes available.

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I chose to have the Lamb Biryani (£5.99). Every time I’ve had biryani in Vancouver, it was served on a hot plate, but here it was served on a regular plate. I found the rice quite dry, and the lamb even drier. I mean, I anticipated gaminess, since it is lamb, but it was too dry and too tough to be palatable. It also didn’t taste much different from beef, and the natural taste of lamb wasn’t too noticeable. The biryani was also quite oily, and didn’t taste much different from regular fried rice. I thought it could have benefitted from more flavour, overall.

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My biryani was accompanied by Daal. While reading Brick Lane, I noticed that the main character, Nazneen, is constantly mentioned eating daal, and I was excited to try it on my own. Daal is a stew primarily composed of lentils, peas, and beans. I found it to have a thick consistency, but it worked well when trying to moisten my very, very dry biryani. I honestly wouldn’t say I enjoyed the daal very much, but it was exciting to try out something new.

I’m not sure how I felt about this restaurant. My biryani wasn’t particularly great, but in hindsight, I wish I’d tried some of the Bangladeshi dishes, like Shawarma did. In any case, I’m glad that I had the chance to visit Brick Lane, which afforded me a very different experience than the rest of my sightseeing in London. Even if you don’t plan on reading Ali’s novel, Brick Lane offers a different and fascinating view of one of London’s richest ethnic communities that you can’t access from more traditional tourist spots like Trafalgar Square or the London Eye.

Feast and Mishti
245/247 Whitechapel Road
London, UK E1 1DB

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