Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Two large bowls of jellied eels

I was in my local fishmonger's on the weekend, Steve Hatt on the Essex Road. Whilst I was waiting to be served I took a look at their list of orders for collection on the day. It was mostly fashionable seafood for smart local restaurants - I noticed Ottolenghi were due to pick up 2kg of razor clams and 3kg of king prawns. But there was also one entry that read:
Two large bowls of jellied eels - FUNERAL

That's what I like about the Essex Road (one of my earliest posts was in praise of it): it keeps it real, bruv.

Jellied eels somehow seem a more appropriate accompaniment to a funeral than baked meats. I can see the mourners exchanging regretful comments between lugubrious spoonfuls of silvery eel and golden jelly, turning away occasionally to suck on the odd piece of protuberant cartilage. Disgusting.

I like seafood and I like pies so it pains me to say how much I dislike traditional Cockney delicacies. I think it's fairly self-evident what's not to like about eels, even though they are very popular with some (all of them too: my old Pop - my London-born step-grandfather - used to scoff even the cartilage). But with pie and mash, what seems promising is let down by poor execution.

The last time I tried a portion was at Clarke's, down on Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell. Gritty mince, leathery pastry, insipid liquor and watery mashed potato. The application of lots of malt vinegar and white pepper got me through it. It was very cheap, mind, and they were quite busy.

It pains me to be so critical - I really would like to enjoy Cockney grub. It corresponds to what otherwise I've always understood to be good and true in the world. In fact, I can't think of another instance where I haven't liked the local, traditional, everyday food of a place (unless it's featured tripe): pelmeni, wurstl, pizza, croque monsieur, balti, burgers, gallettes, chips and mayo, waffles, herring (pickled and smoked), tapas, salt beef, stovies, noodles, fish and chips, tacos, kebabs, knishes, dosas, phô, pasties. And so on. No, I really would like to enjoy Cockney grub. But I just can't.

P.S. Poached cods roe, dipped in beaten egg, rolled in seasoned flour, then shallow-fried and eaten with chopped parsley and a squirt of lemon. Words fail me.


worm said...

agree wholeheartedly - and I used to live on exmouth market and eat at Clarke's sometimes - it was always the liquor I found most disappointing - why drown your food in something that tastes of absolutely nothing???

my least favourite local dish has to be spanish Bacalao. What the even more horrific Lutefisk tastes like... the mind boggles...

Recusant said...

It is the execution, Gaw. They have chosen the one way of making eels disgusting and stuck to it. The same applies to what should be the simple and delicious proposition that is Pie & Mash. I feel the need to check to see if they are laughing at me for actually believing you should eat the stuff, but, no, they are all busy tucking in and dishing out.

My theory is that Cockney food is really just malt vinegar and aged white pepper.

dearieme said...

The best local British delicacies I know:-
1) Aberdeen butteries, a breakfast delight.
2) The newly baked pork pies I used to get, warm, for Saturday breakfast in a North Yorkshire village.
3) Solway shrimp (not potted; just off the trawler).
4) Scally dhu and chips in Oban. (spelling approximate).

And here's an obscure delight - in NZ they have a fizzy pop that's so good that adults can enjoy it - Lemon and Peiora (spelling again approximate), aka "L & P".

malty said...

Way back when the world was young and the docks were wannabe free and still working, the Prospect of Whitby was well and truly in, the Twickenham fans would descend, post match, quite a hike, and add to the atmosphere, an oasis of cosmopolitan sixties doings in the midst of the tail end of the old east end way of life. Upon disgorging from the boozer, well lubricated through to comatose we would be greeted by the serried ranks of stallholders, always avoided jellied afterbirth, sometimes went for the 'rock salmon'. Never discovered what it was, certainly not salmon, absolutely like rocks. Cods roe then tasted like fishy lentils.
Car parking was an art, "'ere mate, look after your motor, half a crown" said the four feet tall ten year old, standing there with his mates, ignore the suggestion at your peril. This of course, pre breathalyser.

worm said...

'rock salmon' is dogfish malty!!!

Recusant said...


Rock Salmon = Dogfish/Huss. In other words, shark

malty said...

Wasn't rocks that I tasted then, must have been the collar.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I worked for 7 years in an office in Plaistow, E. London, and tried the pie and mash shops there on occasions and, like you, I wanted to enjoy them but couldn't. Same for the pubs: I once asked if they could put the cricket up on the TV screen... I quickly made my excuses and left.

I'd have to add kippers and Finnan haddock to dearieme's mouthwatering list.

Mal said...

There's a new Pie and Mash website at . It has a full listing (with details) of every known P&M shop and you can review and rate your favourites (and unfavourites). There's tons of information about pie and mash and you can share your memories with other like minded pie'n'mashers.

Pie and Mash.Com could do with your help. Please visit the website, look at the details of shops you know and help by filling in the blanks (prices, opening times, things like that). If you notice anything that's wrong or missing just email me at


Brit said...

For me the worst local food is Carribbean, with the notable and honourable exception of jerk chicken.

Ackee and saltfish, plantain... all awful.

For Blighty you can't beat cumberland sausages and real ale.