london: an origin story
One of our many origin stories takes place in London… the meeting place of my parents, the land of their union, and a point of convergence in my immigrant story. My mother, born in the Philippines, and my father, born in India, were never supposed to meet. They certainly were not supposed to marry given the boundaries of culture, religion, geography, and yet their vocational pursuits brought them together in a small hospital on the outskirts of London. My parents were married in Marylebone, lived life together in Surrey, and ultimately pushed borders even further to come to the states.
My most recent visit to London was in summer 2019. I decided to drag Bri along on a trip that started out as professional, and it turned into an exploration of the place where my parents’ love story began. The highlights were a visit to St. Marylebone Parish Church where my parents married in 1971, and checking out an exhibition of one of my favorite artists Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern with our niece and her partner. But of course, our adventures centered around where and what we ate. Some of our favorite meals were at Kricket, Fancy Crab, Lyle’s, Ottolenghi, Dinner, St. John and a Full English (Breakfast) at Hawksmoor.
For me, Kricket was like coming home. The space itself is both simple and inviting using aromas and colors as tools to entice, but it was the brave modern take on traditional Indian cuisine that spoke to my ambiguous identity as a woman of Indian descent that felt like an embrace when I walked through their doors. Yes, their Keralan Fried Chicken and Coconut and Jaggery Kheer are to die for, but it was their unapologetic contemporary interpretation of dishes and unique approach to being Indian that fed my soul. I wanted to take it all home with me, but had to settle for the cookbook (which is now the most gorgeous cookbook on my shelf). Bri couldn’t get enough of St. John which makes sense if you see his worn copy of the cookbook back home. We ate at St. John Smithfield, a beautifully warm, minimalist, rustic space, but there was something special about walking into their bakery in Neal’s Yard that offered a little bit of magic. The quaint and cozy spot somehow set the stage for my first taste of their anchovy buns. Yes, anchovy buns. You might not think that would produce an otherworldly experience but you’d be mistaken. Would’ve loved to visit Core, Clare Smyth’s restaurant but it was impossible to get into. I suppose we’ll have to go back!
I think I saved the best for last with one of my new favorite places in the world… Borough Market. It is indeed an open air market filled with farmers, merchants, artisans, butchers, bakers, and a variety of restaurants and food stalls that make you never want to leave. Locals and tourists alike can be found strolling past street performers and visiting stalls. Bri and I visited 3 times during our trip and could not get enough. We were lucky to peruse the various market stands tasting and talking with merchants and makers, get our Fish and Chips fill at Fish!, grab a famed sausage roll from the Ginger Pig, and eat at Bao for a quick lunch yet we hardly scratched the surface.
Growing up my dad would talk about the lackluster food traditionally eaten in London. Although he longed for some of the authentic Indian food that was more easily found in London than the Midwest, he didn’t offer glowing reviews of Bangers and Mash and Shepherd’s Pie. Having been fortunate to visit London a few times over the past few decades I’ve had the privilege of experiencing how the food scene has shifted over the years, and this latest trip cemented my love of London, not only because of my familial history, but because it truly offers a uniquely diverse culinary experience.