Take a food tour of the Brick Lane curry houses to learn about Indian street Food and find great Indian restaurants in London.
London, and the UK in general, have a long history of Indian cuisine, especially fantastic curry. Whenever we have the chance we are always on the lookout for good Indian restaurants in London. During our recent visit, we decided to learn a bit more about Indian food in London especially its history and how it became so popular. And what we learned might surprise you!
Brick Lane for Indian Restaurants in London
Brick Lane is known for its fantastic Indian cuisine and there are a lot of Indian restaurants in London, so this is saying something. With limited time and way too many choices for fantastic Indian we decided to take a food tour with Eating Europe to get some insider tips on the best Brick Lane curry houses.
History of Indian Food in London and the UK
It might surprise you to learn that most of what the UK (and some other parts of the world) think of as Indian food- is not Indian at all. It is the British adaptation of Indian food. The British East India Company, formed in 1600, brought goods including spices, teas and silks from the East Indies to Britain. There is a long history of the relationship between Britain and India which I won’t go into here, but this is how Indian spices and other foods found their way to the UK. (If you would like to learn more about the history of the British East India Company there is an exhibit in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.)
In India, there is no word for curry. Many of their dishes were adapted or new dishes created to suit British tastes. Several dishes many of us think of as Indian, Chicken Tikka Masala, Butter Chicken, Chicken Korma, are not Indian, but British dishes.
History of Brick Lane
Brick Lane is in the London neighborhood of Shoreditch. Once a Jewish neighborhood, there is still some evidence of it Jewish heritage including synagogues, bagel shops and many of the shops are still owned by their previous Jewish tenants. But as the Jewish community grew and prospered, many of these shops moved out of the area and it became home to the new immigrants from Bangladesh.
Fearing many people in London would not know where Bangladesh was or would not try their foods, it was easier to refer to the cuisine as Indian, a cuisine with which the British were already familiar. Today about 80% of Indian restaurants in London are owned by families from Bangladesh.
So as more immigrants from Bangladesh arrived, a thriving community grew in Brick Lane- complete with shops, restaurants and even banks which served the needs of the local community.
Brick Lane and Indian Food Today
Today, if you head to Brick Lane you find a multicultural neighborhood. Indian food, or cuisine from Bangladesh, is still the dominant cuisine and Brick Lane is known for its Indian Street food and curry houses. In fact, Brick Lane is also known as Banglatown.
We joined Eating Europe for their London Food Tour of Brick Lane to find the best Indian food and we were not disappointed.
The Brick Lane Food Tour
Think of the food tour as a progressive dinner, as the afternoon progresses, you move from restaurant to restaurant and from one course to another.
Starting with the traditional first course at an Indian restaurant we met the guide and other guests at an original and very popular Brick Lane curry house for papadums and a cold beer! Definitely a good start. And yes, it is a Bangladeshi curry house!
Great Places for Indian Street Food in Brick Lane
Next stop Taj Stores, the UK’s first Bangladeshi supermarket, with much of the fresh produce arriving daily from Bangladesh. It is full of exotic foods and flavors.
From here we discover Indian street food. I would have walked by this place numerous times and probably never entered and it would have been a shame to miss. Arzu, is what is known as a “Telebhaja”- which is fast food in Bengal, usually fried. This was the opportunity to try what I think is the best samosa I have ever had! This place is on the list next time we are in London!
Nearby Arzu, are several shops which sell traditional Indian sweets. We made a quick stop at Rajmahal Sweets to learn more. Here we each select a sweet to have at the end of the tour for dessert. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss this shop!
From here we headed to a very local affair, Gram Bangla. Again, this is a place I would have walked by many times and probably never have entered. It was full of locals which is always a good sign. And the food was fantastic! We sampled several traditional dishes. The locals eat with their hands, so we did too! With a little bit of heat in these dishes, a fresh mango lassi was the perfect accompaniment.
Street Art and Indian Fine Dining in Brick Lane
Along the way, we learned more about the history of the neighborhood and the street art in the area. Many famous street artists have work in the Brick Lane neighborhood. A couple of my favorites are pictured below!
Last stop was Tayyab’s, which from its humble beginnings serving tea and toast, is now one of the best Indian restaurants in London. Specializing in Punjabi cuisine, this restaurant is perfect for a night out in London. We will be returning with friends to this restaurant for sure!
The Brick Lane Indian Food Tour
It all ends, 2.5 hours later, with the dessert we selected earlier. We are full, have learned a lot, had a great time, eaten some terrific food and have some great places to return for fantastic Indian street food or a nice night out at an Indian restaurant in London. Time well spent!
If you would like to join Eating Europe for a London Food Tour, you can find all the details and how to book on their website. We also explored Soho in London on their Twilight Soho Food Tour, it is a great to explore Soho and try some local cocktails.