London has long been known for its ethnic and racial diversity, and nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in the historically impoverished East End. Home to rolling waves of immigration, the East End of the Victorian era was paradoxically known as a place of safe harbor for countless refugees while simultaneously maintaining a reputation as a hotbed of criminality and chaos.
Be sure to check out our other free, self-guided London tours.
Check out the video of our East London Food Tour
As explained on our guided East London Food Tour, this densely populated area has seen 4 main waves of immigration over the past 350 years: the French Huguenots in the 1680s, Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews in the 1850s, Bangladeshi refugees in the 1970s and…. the Hipsters in the 2000s. With all of these rich cultures layered on top of one another, the resulting food scene is very interesting indeed – and very affordable for any travellers’ budget.
It is possible to eat from any of the world’s cuisines when you are in the East End of London, but here is a small DIY tour that will have you sampling some of the best the East End has to offer those with a hunger for delicious food.
If you can’t make it on to one of our guided food tours, try doing this one on your own!
For this self guided tour, exit Aldgate East Station (via exit 3)* and start by walking along Brick Lane (well labeled as you leave the station), lovingly known as London’s Curry Mile or ‘Banglatown.’
Home to a thriving Bengali community since the early 1970s, the spice and curry of this beautiful cuisine will be evident all around you.
Stop at the corner with Fournier Street at Raj Mahal, one of London’s best samosa shops. Pick up at least 2 or 3 of these savoury, spicy little pastry parcels stuffed with curried meats and vegetables – remember to have water on hand, as these are spiced authentically!
Note: this is the starting point ONLY for the self guided tour. The guided tour meets at the McDonalds at Liverpool Street Station.
Now head left Fournier Street to the Old Spitalfields Market, a former Huguenot silk weavers market and now a feast for the eyes, ears – and yes, the tastebuds.
While wandering around the antiques vendors, posh boutiques and fine dining restaurants, why not sample some of the affordable options on display?
If you are venturing through the market between 3-6 pm, make sure you stop by the normally pricey Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House for their Happy Hour – only 1 pound per oyster, 7 days a week!
Now that you have had some savoury, sweet, spicy and briney treats, leave the market by its north east exit, cross Commercial Street and head down Hanbury Street for the ultimate in East London fare – fish n chips. Poppies Fish n Chips is an institution – here since 1952 and still owned by the same man, ‘Pop,’ this chippie is widely regarded as the very best in the UK, and it has the awards to prove it. Get takeaway and don’t forget – you must ask for the homemade tartar sauce – otherwise you risk getting Heinz packets!
If you still have room after this gut busting tour, walk through the Old Truman Brewery and back out onto Brick Lane, heading east for three blocks until you reach the grand finale of this tour, the Beigel Bake (not to be confused with the imposter ‘Beigel Shop’ 2 doors down.
This famous beigel shop is open 24 hours and serves hungry Londoners piping hot salt beef ‘beigels’ (note the London Jewish spelling) no matter the time, day or night. Make sure you get the mustard and add some pickles - and marvel at the efficiency and no-nonsense attitude of the beigel ladies!
This tour will take you through 350 years of history in a few delicious mouthfuls – but it by no means covers all of the great spots in the area.
For a truly amazing, authentic experience, book on to our free, guided East End Food Tour, guided by an experienced local who is passionate about food and heritage. Bon Appetit!