Saturday, January 5, 2019

Day 5: we squirm

YOUGUYS I'm not sure about today's 'first'. I somehow got it into my head that I'd go to Broadway Market (so cute! imagine the pictures!), visit the famed F. Cooke, and try my first jellied eel. Why? I DON'T KNOW. IT SOUNDED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME.

It started off excellent: the market wasn't as crowded because it's cold outside and indeed, I was right, it's so cute! Look at the picture!

And then I get to F. Cooke, just about the cutest little pie shop that's been - according to its sign - serving the East End since 1862:

Please note: that sign says 'Hot AND Jellied Eels': you can get hot eels, or you can get cold, chopped-and-boiled, jellied eels. The latter dish is my goal. Hot eels seem like cheating somehow. I want - well, I don't WANT - the wobbly one, the jewel in the crown of the pie-and-mash shop (not to be confused with the fish-and-chip shop, where one is not likely to find this treat, what with it not being battered and deep fried, which I can only imagine would improve its odds). 

I take a deep breath and go in. As suspected, given the swankiness of the area, it's about as cute a diner as one could hope for. This gives me courage. I pause, and I ask for a portion of jellied eels. The woman looks at me silently for a moment then says, 'We're out today but come back next week.' 

WHAT?! Does she think I'll be able to do this a second time?? TODAY IS THE DAY IT MUST BE TODAY OR I'LL FALTER AND NOT DO IT AT ALL. 

I like to think, in hindsight, she saw my hesitation and lied to save me. 

Alas, I will not be deterred. I get on Google Maps and find another pie and mash shop nearby, on Bethnal Green Road. We head down. (Keep in mind Al is keeping me company on this journey, but he refuses, on no uncertain terms, to eat the eels with me. Something-something-gross, something-something-not-my-blog.) This second place - S & R Kelly - is nearly as old, established 1915 - and looks much more like the East London I know and love than the precious F. Cooke did:

Graffiti and trash bags, Christmas decorations still up, that's more like it. 

The clientele is already better (though there was nobody at F. Cooke, to be fair). I get another boost of confidence. I can do this. I take a look at the menu:

('Liquor', fyi, refers to a green parsley sauce, not actual booze. I am learning a lot today.) The man in front of me orders 'a two 'n one' and when I ask him what that is, he tells me it's two pies and one portion of mash. Sure enough, this is what he gets:

Now normally, THIS would be my worst nightmare (potatoes, eww, pie, why) but given what I'm about to order, I downright envy him.

Just look at these vats! Like a church potluck. I'd gladly eat potatoes whacked out of this tin at the moment. 

I order my jellied eel for takeaway. (I don't want to risk cringing, poking, prodding, potentially heaving, in public.) The woman sweeps a spoon into something under the counter, flops the contents into a styrofoam cup, smacks the lid on, and covers the whole thing with a mysterious paper bag. She really doesn't want me to see the contents before I get home. 

Yeah, okay, this seems alright.

And then, in the safety of my own kitchen, where I could not insult proprietor nor customer with a poor, Philistine's reaction, I open it. 



Okay, I know what I'll do. I'll PLATE it. That will make it seem more appealing. Nobody likes to eat bouncy, boiled eel out of a styrofoam cup. The cup is the problem.

OMGOMGOMG PUT IT BACK IN THE CUP. How did that make it worse?? 

So here I sit. I've decided to treat it like an oyster - an idea confirmed by My-British Hannah, consultant for the day - and have prepped my battle station:

Red wine vinegar, jalapeño, shallot, hot sauce - how could anything taste bad under that medley?

. . . . .

I'm really struggling to put this in my mouth. Maybe I need a drink first.

. . . . .

Alright, I've got the gin, now where'd that dusty bottle of Vermouth go . . . ah! There it is. Yes, let's make a martini. Essential to really get that full London experience here.

Whew. That's better. Wait! Forgot the garnish, that seems important . . . Oh shoot, I'm out of olives, maybe I should go to the shop . . .  blast, have lemon. A twist'll do. Forgivable, needs must.

Time to fortify.  

I'm pretty sure after this lengthy delay the eel won't be cold anymore, but I can't see how that hurts. Cold, slithery, gelatinous boiled eel can't TRULY be the peak, can it? Versus room-temperature, slithery, gelatinous boiled eel, a real treat.

I'm just going to scrape some of this aspic off . . . now cut a small bite . . . maybe smaller . . . 

Huh. It just tastes like . . . soft, cold fish. Not dissimilar in texture or flavour - once it's been scraped clear - to, say, a scallop. But a little fishier. Mackerel? That fat gray skin is freaking me out. Also the gelatin. Also the bone. I'm cutting away more than I'm eating, to be sure. But covered with the jalapeño and shallot and hot sauce, it's basically . . . an oyster's ugly cousin?  

Yeah, this guy's definitely not being Instagrammed from a sunny terrace in seaside France.

I guess I should go now and . . . eat the rest. Try not to burp. Down this cocktail in one. The usual Saturday afternoon. 

We're definitely having lasagna for dinner.

No comments:

Post a Comment