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.
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.
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 safeharbour 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!
Start at Liverpool Street Station, and make your way across Bishopsgate, and turn right down Middlesex Street and veer left onto Widegate Street, turning left on Sandy’s Row to see the oldest remaining Ashkenazi synagogue in London (but also pop your head down Artillery Passage.
Note: this is the starting point ONLY for the self guided tour. The guided tour meets at the McDonalds at Liverpool Street Station.
Turn right down Brushfield Street, and pop into “The English Restaurant” (yes, that’s the name!) for some raw oysters. The Romans loved Londinium’s oysters so much that they shipped them across the empire in big barrels! Be sure to pair your oysters with some stout for a traditional combination.
Head to Spitalfields Market, once the site of a massive leper’s hospital (hence the name), and try a few tasty and authentic bites – I like the Masala Chai from Chai Guys, the Soup Dumplings from Dumpling Shack, and the Taiwanese Wheelcakes from Wheelcake Island.
Next, swing into the Ten Bells for a quick pint – it’s named for the ten bells of Christchurch Spitalfields across the street. Fourpure Brewery is local, or have a hand-pumped pint of cask ale. This pub is sometimes called “The Jack the Ripper pub” because it was the last place a few of the victims were seen alive. But I think it’s more interesting for its traditional décor.
Now, make your way down Fournier Street to have a look at the French Huguenot houses. They were French Protestants forced to leave Catholic France by Louis XIV in 1685, and they lived in these houses until the mid-19th century.
At the end of the street, you’ll find the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, the only building in the world to have been a church, synagogue, and then mosque! You’ll also find 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! They area is home to a thriving Bengali community since the early 1970s, the spice and curry of
this beautiful cuisine will be evident all around you.
Walk down Brick Lane and then turn left on Hanbury Street for the ultimate in East London fare – fish n chips. Poppies Fish n Chips is an institution, founded by Pat ‘Pop’ Newland, who sadly passed away in 2022. This chippie is widely regarded as one of the best 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!
Now, walk through the Old Truman Brewery and back out onto Brick Lane, heading east for until you reach the Beigel Bake - not to be confused with the ‘Beigel Shop’ 2 doors down- it’s been here longer, but I prefer the blue and white shop – and so do all of the others in the queue! As for the queue, it moves quickly.
This famous beigel shop is open 24 hours and serves hungry Londoners piping hot salt beef ‘beigels’ (note the old Yiddish spelling) no matter the time, day or night. Make sure you get the mustard and pickles – called gherkins in the UK - and marvel at the efficiency and no-nonsense attitude of the beigel ladies!
Finally, double back a hundred metres and finish your tasting tour at Dark Sugars, owned by Nyanga, originally from Ghana. She specialises in single-origin fair trade Ghanaian chocolate from her family’s farm, and it simply divine. They are famous for their hot chocolate, made from shavings of house-made white, dark, and milk chocolate.
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!
This Self-Guided East London Food Tour was written by Jessica O'Neill, who regularly leads our East London Food Tours which you can sign up to HERE. Jessica is also available for private tours and you can find out more about her, and how to book her for your tour HERE.