Many things are associated with the East End of London, but a real Eastender's life isn't all fights in pubs, working on the market and going down to Margate for the Summer. A real staple of east (and parts of south London) life, however, is a traditional pie and mash shop.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, east and south London were largely populated by working class people. With the spread of heavy industry across London came a lot of air pollution; due to the prevailing westerly winds from the Atlantic, the smog was almost always blown towards the east, resulting in it becoming a home for the working class, while the upper classes settled in the smog-free West End. Not being able to afford the delicacies offered 'up West', the workers strove to create their own special dishes. At the time the River Thames was filthy and the only creature known to be able to survive in it was the eel, making it a cheap source of food when boiled in gelatine. Potatoes were another source of cheap food and were mashed up as a side dish to the main meat: cheap mince without onions or any other ingredients, served in a pie. To add a bit of flavour a parsley sauce, known as liquor, was added.
The longest-running pie and mash business, Goddard's Pie Shop, was founded in 1890 by Albert Goddard and is now situated in Greenwich, offering take-away and catering services. However, the current building has only been around since 1952. It was relocated from the original building in Deptford, and was run by Albert's son, Bob, until he retired after 20 years. It was then passed down to his son, Dave, and his wife, Pam, but sadly Dave passed away in 1990 when it was taken over by his wife and children, Jeff and Kane, who have been working in the shop since they were ten years old. As this example shows, these are family businesses, with the oldest pie and mash shop in London being no exception. Opened by Michele Manze1 in 1902 along Tower Bridge Road, M. Manze's holds claim to the title of longest standing pie and mash outlet. The business expanded as the family did but was dogged by legal battles and local riots. Once boasting five shops, the name Manze is currently borne on three sites across London, all run by relatives of Michele.
What To Expect
Restaurants serving pie and mash go under many names as they normally incorporate jellied eels on their menu, but the most common is simply a 'pie and mash shop'. The dish consists simply of one or two pies, a scoop or two of mash2 on the side and bright green liquor poured over. As any Londoner who frequents such places will reveal, every pie and mash shop across the city has slightly different tasting pies and an even more diverse difference in liquor; everyone will be keen to tell you that their local serves the best.
Though the liquor varies in viscosity and taste from shop to shop, and most restaurants keep their recipe a secret on pain of death, the following is the most used public variety - though as any London family matriarch will tell you, you can't beat the real McCoy.
- 25g butter (1oz)
- 25g plain flour (1oz)
- 300ml water (10fl oz)3
- 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp malt vinegar (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper (optional)
- Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and cook for one minute.
- Gradually add the water. Bring to the boil, stirring continuously.
- Add the parsley. Also add seasoning and vinegar (if using).
The Shops Today
Most shops in London retain their original appearance in a bid to maintain the traditions instilled in such establishments - though of course some changes have been made, most noticeably to the menus and to the clientele, who no longer are solely the older working class. The décor still tends to be blue, green and orange tiles with wooden bench seats and white marble table-tops. The menus, usually written in chalk, have now expanded in many restaurants and include gravy as an alternative to liquor as well as a variety of pies.
Pie and mash shops are extremely rare outside of south and east London, though there is known to be a lone restaurant in Australia serving the traditional East London dish. There are estimated to be around 80 establishments across the city, but it is unknown how many have migrated across the country and possibly overseas - most probably not very many. The long queues at some restaurants on a Saturday night indicates that they will be around for a long time to come and will continue bringing a traditional, scrumptious meal at a cheap price.