Where: East End of London, England
Tastes: The original fast food – chewy and served potted cold in jelly
Serving Suggestion: Try in a traditional pie and eel shop with mashed potato, and a dash of chili for a hot taste
If you asked most Londoners about typical food in Europe’s largest city, most wouldn’t give jellied eels the time of day. But the traditional East End dish is enjoying something of a revival amongst residents in the Capital and tourists who are keen to capture a taste of the real old-fashioned East End.
You can buy jellied eels from street stalls near the busy markets on Brick Lane, or from specialist ‘Eel, Pie And Mash Shops’ in the vicinity. There’s about 80 such shops in the East End which do a roaring trade and are widely regarded as hotbeds of Cockney culture.
Origins and History
Pies have been popular in London since Victorian times. Originally they were filled with eel, but the fish became hard to come by during World War II so minced meat began to be used as an alternative. Minced meat remained the filling of choice even after the war, and when eels became widely available once more they were relegated to the status of side dish.
‘Eel, Pie & Mash Shops’ were around long before modern day burger joints claimed a pitch on every High Street. They even date back earlier than fish and chip shops. Pies and eels are quick to prepare and can be served eat-in or take-way…the original fast food!
Eels are easy to eat on the go, and are a great snack to wolf down on the way home from the pub. They can be boiled with salt and pimento, or with a variety of vegetables and seasoning, then set in gelatine when they are cooked. They taste rather like pickled herrings – for a spicier flavour sprinkle with a little chili vinegar.
Admittedly, jellied eels are an acquired taste, and not one a lot of people are prepared to go to lengths to acquire! But if you’re in the big smoke it’s got to be worth a gander…millions of cockneys can’t be wrong, can they guv’nor?
Britannia.com: Jellied Eel Recipe
Try this one at home! DIY jellied eels.
Eels, Pie & Mash : Photographs, Chris Clunn
By Jess Halliday