Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Shepherd's Bush, London

In 2011 the UK census revealed that the percentage of people living in London who identified themselves as "white British" fell below 50% for the first time. Although in the UK as a whole this "white British" category outnumbers the others three to one, there are places in London where the demographic is definitely skewed in the other direction. A search for goat curry took me towards the Shepherd's Bush tube station, in an area of west London where the Westfield London shopping center (or centre) has, since 2008, sprawled over 37 acres (not including parking) to form what is not quite the UK's biggest mall.

I didn't go there.

I went to the Shepherd's Bush Market tube station, where I came up from underground to see another shopping area, this one a covered outdoor market; it's covered partly in canvas and partly by the overpass for the Hammersmith & City underground rail line, as it has been for a hundred years longer than the upstart marketplace hulking to the north. According to the same 2011 census, half the people living in this area were born outside the UK. Almost 20% of the households surveyed then had no one living there who spoke English as their first language. Interestingly, for the Hammersmith and Fulham borough in its entirety, most of the immigrants in 2011 were from France, Ireland, and Australia. There is a well-established Polish community, and many immigrants from Somalia and northern Africa. Half the population is Muslim, and more than half of the women I saw on the street were wearing a hijab or niqab, or even a head-to-toe black burka.

There were plenty of places in the covered market to buy ready-made veils and headscarves, or fabric to make them. The Pakistani population was catered to as well, with entire shops filled with rolls of embroidered sparkly cloth for saris or salwar kameez. There were lots of sweets stands that children were tugging their mothers towards, and the usual collection of discount tableware, pillows, saucepans, and other household miscellany you'll find in pretty much any market like this.

A few stands were selling British souvenirs, keychains and whatnot, so I think this is still a magnet for tourists due to its history, though it's not as hip and happening as the Camden Lock Market (which I never did get to while I was staying in the north London area, but on the other hand, I've been to the Portland Saturday Market and it's much hipper and happening-er, she says loyally). From what I've read it seems that since the mall opened in 2008 it has become the shopping destination, and most people go there now instead. However, last year the borough approved plans to expand the market and work towards bringing it back to its 1914 prominence and importance in the area. A few months ago the Financial Times ran an article about the gentrification of Shepherd's Bush and the housing prices have been going up steadily since 2008, when the new shopping centre drew peoples' eyes to this area.
I wasn't in the market for anything in particular - having to periodically stuff things back into what I swear are shrinking suitcases rather cuts down on the urge to accumulate possessions - so I just wandered around for a bit, past rows of plastic toys and cotton towels, real and artificial flowers, jewelry and watches and probably the same leather belts and wallets that were being sold at the weekly market on the Place Jean Jaurès in Tours. There were a few food stands selling falafel and things like that, as well as a very fishy-smelling fish stand at one end. There weren't that many other people there, but maybe just before noon on a Monday isn't a popular time to be out shopping. It reminded me of the big market in Shipshewana, Indiana where people aren't really there to buy things, necessarily, but more to just peruse what's on offer, unless they see something that's too good a deal to pass up. A place to pass some time, chat with friends, maybe try on a pair of sunglasses.

The restaurant (technically speaking) I had come there to get lunch at was closed until noon, so I had a half an hour to spare for a bit of sightseeing, and wandered up and back along the main road. It's definitely not the prettiest neighborhood in London - a bit grotty in places, in fact - but it's one of the more interesting.

I was a little disappointed in the food at Ochi Caribbean because although it was good, it wasn't freshly made; I think they reheat things in the microwave, because the sauce from my goat curry was congealed around the edge of the plate. Or maybe it's just certain dishes that they reheat, with others made fresh. Their jerk chicken gets good reviews, in any event. The tiny kitchen probably can't have everything cooking at once, which is probably why they only offer their cow foot stew on Fridays, though you can get fish tea any day of the week.

Now I know where to go if I want to give goat curry a go myself at home, or at least at someone else's home when I'm back in London in December. I'm sure the two cats there would be more than happy to help me eat it, if I didn't make it too spicy. Goat meat is lean, with more protein and less fat (saturated and otherwise) than chicken. A Canadian heart health association provides this recipe for Ragoût de chevreau au cari épicé which I have translated for your edification and use:

1.5 pounds cubed goat meat
2 Tbs curry powder
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 habanero chilli, minced
2 Scotch Bonnet chillis, minced (they like their curries hot in Canada)
1 branch fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp brown sugar
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced potatoes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 cup water

Put the meat in the bottom of a large heavy pot, pour all the other ingredients on top, and cover the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for one hour or until the meat is tender, stirring from time to time. Serve with steamed brown rice.

Other recipes I saw use sweet potatoes, and at Ochi Caribbean they serve the curry with Jamaican peas and rice, which is amazingly good. Now I'm hungry.

So if you're interested in living in London and want to get in on a relatively cheap fixer-upper in an ethnically diverse, historically interesting, fashionable-or-grotty-depending-on-location neighborhood then Shepherd's Bush is where you want to be. It's about half an hour from the City of London by rail, but it's also within walking distance, if you're willing to walk about six miles. That's what I did after lunch, and I'll tell you about that walk in the next post.

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