Chicken tikka masala has long been considered a favorite dish of Britain, and it is widely available in London due to the large number of Indian communities. But this iconic dish is just one of the popular meals coming out of Indian restaurants, popping up on street corners, and even sliding out of quintessential British pubs. In fact, Indian food is incredibly vegetarian-friendly, partly as a result of widespread Hinduism.
A variety of vegetables, spices, and fruits make the menu at any Indian restaurant compatible with a vegetarian diet. And when in London, there are an unfathomable number of restaurants and vendors to choose from. In North London, where I studied for the summer, there is one Indian restaurant you can’t miss – the Indian Veg Bhel Poori House, where all the dishes are vegetarian, and are served buffet-style for only 4.95 pounds.
Four different salads, a variety of rices, and three hot mains were accompanied by an array of poppadoms, samosas, naan, and other Indian snacks when I visited the Indian Veg Bhel Poori House for a quick bite after class. The dishes change daily, but I was particularly taken with the coconut vegetable curry with paneer, and the orange cabbage salad. If you don’t mind being surrounded by facts and statistics adamantly promoting a vegetarian lifestyle, this is an unbeatable price for hearty vegetarian food.
But no neighborhood has a reputation that can compete with Brick Lane, where curry houses line the street and the smell of cumin and coriander can be detected at all hours of the day.
The Not-So-Good Bite: While an excursion to Brick Lane is a London-must, be prepared for some aggressive attempts to prove one curry house’s superiority over the next. Hosts will greet you on the sidewalk, and tempt you with a free drink, a bottle of wine, a special discount – anything to set their restaruant apart from the one right next door. If you go with a specific spot in mind, or don’t mind a little time sifting for the best offer, Brick Lane is a vibrant neighborhood worth the trip.
The Good Bite: While picking the best might be a bit tricky, any restaurant along Brick Lane is sure to turn out good food, with reasonable portions at reasonable prices. I enjoyed a very tasty plate of “Sag Aloo,” at The Shampan, which had a variety of lunch deals and offered any vegetable side as a main dish. Don’t be afraid to ask for the chef to turn up the heat on your dish, either – I found British-Indian food to be more mild than the dishes I’ve sampled in the States, and I prefer mine with spice.
The Best Bite: Aside from the large number of vegetarian offerings, a trip to Brick Lane is a wider experience than just what you eat for dinner. Stop at any of the specialty Indian sweet shops near the beginning of Brick Lane for an after dinner treat, or head to indoor market at the Old Truman Brewery on Sundays for vibrant street food and fun shopping. On weekends, all of Brick Lane comes to life with streetside snacks, antiques, and goods.
An authentic Indian bite is a surprising way to get an authentic bite out of London, which is so shaped by the variety of cultures and ethnicities that have set roots in London’s diverse neighborhoods.
I’m wrapping up this mouthful morsel, and my traveling summer, with a little treat – a look at sampling sweets in Europe without devastating a healthy diet. Join me tomorrow as a share some of my favorite dessert bites from my time abroad.