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Friday, April 10, 2009

EATING FOR BRITAIN: LONDON CALLING FOR PIE & MASH

















After some relatively far flung journeys for EATING FOR BRITAIN, I was delighted when the next dish I had to cross off on my list was not only in London, but exactly twelve minutes walk from my flat in Shoreditch (I timed myself, sad, but true)

I had written about Pie & Mash on the blog before of course, quite recently when I went for a quick lunch at Manze’s, down by Tower Bridge. However, when I decided to add this classic London combination to my list, I knew that I had, on my very doorstep, access to the original source.

Joe Cooke is a fourth generation Pie & Mash man and it was his great grandfather, Robert Cook, listed in the census as a “Fish Merchant” who is credited by many as the first to start selling pies, then made with eels, from his small shop in Bethnal Green way back in 1862. Now, some 150 years later, Cooke’s have two shops, one on Broadway Market in Hackney and the one I planned to visit on Hoxton Market and Joe himself has been a pieman for well over twenty years

As I walked into the dining room with its white tiled walls and sawdust-strewn floors, it’s hard not to imagine that little has changed since it first opened, but according to Joe, it is the only thing that remains unchanged. When the shop first opened, choices for eating outside of the home were limited to a fish & chips shop, perhaps a café and of course, the pie shop. Now, on the same stretch of road, he listed over thirty options for food and to further emphasise his point swept his arm around in a gesture to show his relatively empty dining room.

It’s a great shame as Pie & Mash are definitely a great value meal. As the picture of the menu shows, a pie with mash and liquor and a mug of strong tea can be had for £4, almost less than the price of a sandwich from Pret.

Of course, price is only one consideration and if the food was no good, then it wouldn’t matter how cheap it was, but Cooke’s pies are the business and, Joe, who was running off to deliver some food to a local office, put me in the hands of one of his colleagues to show me how they were made, fresh every morning.

Like so many of the good things to eat I have encountered on my trip so far, the pies have very few ingredients. Shortcrust pastry and minced beef made only from the flanks of Scotch beef. Er, that’s it. The pie casings are are over stuffed with mince and then baked until golden, simple but following the same procedure as they have for over a hundred years.

King Edwards are mashed with butter as the traditional accompaniment and then it is just a case of deciding what combo of the two your appetite demands and whether you want them on their own or awash with liquor.

The liquor was originally from the stock made by boiling the eels, thickened with flour and turned to the slightly lurid green by the addition of handfuls of fresh parsley. Unfortunately, at the moment, the scarcity and price of eels means that they were off the menu, so the liquor was made with stock whisked with flour and parsely until it reached the required thick consistency.

Obviously, all that watching made me ravenous and, I indulged myself in a large plate of the three key ingredients. There is no way anyone would ever be foolish enough to argue that this is pretty food or even dainty food. It isn’t. It was food for a purpose. Cheap, nutritious and like so many dishes in the UK, designed to provide fuel for those whose days were spent in hard manual toil.

However, there is also no denying that, when it is made well, as it was here at Cooke’s, with good ingredients prepared as they always have been, that it is delicious and a great option for a budget bite.

And we all need more of those right now.

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9 Comments:

Blogger goodshoeday said...

There's a new pie and mash shop opening in Wanstead (London, E11) near where I live and after this blog post I'm looking forward to trying it out - hoping its as good as Cooke's.

Saturday, April 11, 2009 6:22:00 pm  
Blogger Kavey said...

To my regret and shame, I have never had proper pie and mash. Never.

Saturday, April 11, 2009 11:19:00 pm  
Blogger unclehunty said...

That pie and mash shop is pretty good, but it suffers from being in an area that is rapidly becoming full of arty student type who care about the labels on food rather than taste and tradition. I hardly ever see anyone in there except old people and occasionally me(I only live over the other side of London Fields).

Every saturday the market is heaving with people but the pie shop doesn't fill up. It's a shame.

I am going to make the effort this week to take my daughter across there, she is a Cockney and probably needs to know about pie and mash...and thieving.

Sunday, April 12, 2009 8:15:00 am  
Blogger Dan said...

I'm a real lover of Pie+Mash, and visit Clarkes in Exmouth Market (round the corner from my office). probably about once a week. The thing I love most about it, (apart from the cheapness). Is that generations of Londoners have tucked into the same meal, in the same fashion; seated at benches and in most cases, the same surroundings. Trends come and go, Fashion changes - even in food. But Pie and Mash goes on, and long may it continue!

Sunday, April 12, 2009 4:45:00 pm  
Blogger Lizzie said...

I have also never had pie n' mash. I spotted one near where I live in Peckham, I must give it a go.

Sunday, April 12, 2009 6:16:00 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

Lizzie - in that case, make sure to liberally coat your Pie and Mash in Vinegar and White Pepper. I've spoken to Pie and Mash 'Newbies' at work who haven't, and then subsequently complain about the blandness - wondering what the fuss is about. Pepper and Vinegar (Or even, dare I say it Chili vinegar), are essential to the experience.

Sunday, April 12, 2009 7:06:00 pm  
Blogger Leigh said...

thanks for the post - very timely, i'm visiting London in August hopefully and despite all the times I have spent there, I have never had 'Pie & Mash' and as such is almost reaching mythical status in food-hunting terms. Cheers lads!

Monday, April 13, 2009 11:13:00 am  
Blogger Dan said...

I will add, Each pie and mash shop has it's devoted fans, but from my own 'extensive research' Manzies - Tower Bridge Road, is generally considered to serve the best Pie and Mash in London.

Monday, April 13, 2009 7:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I was born in Poplar, East end London and remembered as a child going to the Pie & Mash shop in Chrisp Street, which is no longer there. I have lived in Canada for more than 50 years but on each visit back to London I never forget to have some Pie & Mash either at Manzie's in Peckham or another in East Ham near the soccer stadium. I also used to go to the one in Greenwich near the Cutty Sark which is gone too. I hope this tradition never dies out. May the tiled floors with sawdust, cool to the touch marble table tops and malt vinegar sprinkled from old bottles never be updated. I hope to return again in 2012 for the Summer Olympics, until then I will just have to savour the memories. A true lover of this distinct Cockney dish.

Stephen in Ottawa, Canada

Friday, April 24, 2009 6:04:00 pm  

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