TNT helps you get acquainted with the city’s many colourful cultures. Words: Daniel Landon
Arabs on Edgware Road
The stretch of Edgware Road from Marble Arch to the A40 flyover is often described as ‘Little Arabia’.
While you’ll find plenty of the regular high street stores here, there are also lots of authentic cafés, restaurants and supermarkets (check out the gaudy, blinged-up tea sets on sale).
You’ll see Arabic script adorning many shopfronts, bearded men farewelling each other with a kiss on the cheek, and super-fashionable young women in headscarves.
Edgware Road is hard to beat for top kebabs and Middle Eastern and Arabic food (from Lebanese to Moroccan to Persian), as well as baklava and the thickest ice cream you’ll ever eat.
The Markus Coffee Company on Connaught Street has a huge range of brews.
Smoke a water pipe.
Just about every café or restaurant has them – it costs about £12 and it can take as long as an hour to smoke one.
Simply hold the nozzle in your hand and suck the smoke into your mouth (not your lungs), then exhale.
The tobacco comes in a range of flavours. They won’t give you a high, but all that sucking might make you feel a little light-headed.
Bengalis in the East End
The Brick Lane area of Spitalfields is one of the most vibrant parts of London. With its many curry houses and Bengali stores, it didn’t get the nickname Banglatown for nothing.
Until the 1950s, the region was the hub of London’s Jewish community and dubbed ‘Little Jerusalem’.
But as Jews gradually drifted away from the area, it became home to large numbers of Bengalis thanks to its proximity to the East End’s dockyards – many Bengalis arrived in London to work on the shipping lines between the UK and Asia.
A wander down Brick Lane is a must-do London experience.
Competition among the curry houses is fierce, and with so many (friendly) touts hanging around outside the restaurants, it’s not hard to haggle.
Worth a polite peek inside is the mosque at number 59. Built in 1743, it was originally a place of worship for French Protestants fleeing persecution across the Channel.
It became Methodist in 1819, and a synagogue 1898. It was turned into a mosque in 1976, and is one of the largest in London, holding up to 4000 worshippers.
Jews in Hendon and Golders Green
London is home to about 200,000 Jews from all walks of life, who adopt the full range of religious, spiritual and cultural observance.
You’ll find Jewish communities scattered across the city, though these days the north-west is home to the greatest numbers.
Historically Jewish life flourished in the East End.
Numbers grew as many Jews fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe in the 19th century.
You can see the remnants of this community in the old synagogues and shopfronts close to Spitalfields market.
You can also quite literally feed on the area’s Jewish heritage with a huge salt beef bagel at the 24-hour Brick Lane Beigal Bake – still an institution.
For a more contemporary Jewish experience head for the suburbs of Golders Green and Hendon in the London Borough of Barnet.
You’ll find jam-packed kosher restaurants touting pizza, curry or Chinese; shops selling all manner of Jewish paraphernalia; and lively bars and cafés.
There are also dozens of synagogues, each with a loyal membership, and organisations catering to the specific needs of the community.
All Jewish shops and kosher restaurants are shut on Saturdays for the Jewish Sabbath.
Head to Golders Green Road for Sunday lunch. Choose from kosher felafel (made with chickpeas), a shwarma (like a kebab, but with salad) or a vegetarian boreka (a flaky pastry stuffed with cheese, spinach, potato or mushroom).
South Asians in Southall
You don’t need to rely on films like Slumdog Millionaire to get a feel for what life is like in India.
In the 1920s and ’30s the west London suburb of Southall provided a home for Welsh migrants to the capital, but in the 1950s people from the Asian sub-continent began arriving in the area.
The airport at nearby Heathrow provided these immigrants with plenty of opportunities for work, and the population soon began to grow. These days 55 per cent of Southall’s residents are of Indian (mainly Punjabi) background, and 11 per cent of Pakistani background.
In fact you won’t see too many white faces in this neck of the woods, except for shopping tourists.
Once outside Southall station (where the timetables are in English and Punjabi) it’s a short walk to the main drag, Broadway.
It’s home to the largest Asian market in London, with authentic crafts and goods that will have you wondering if you’re actually in Middlesex and not Mumbai.
Bright fabrics sway from the tops of shops, pavement stalls sell samosas and sweets, and bhangra music floats on the air. No wonder it’s called Little India.
Get cultured: When you’ve finished bargain hunting, treat yourself to a head massage or henna tattoo. Or you could have a pint at the Glassy Junction (97 South Road) – the first and only pub in Britain to accept rupees.
Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha (2-8 Park Avenue) is the largest Sikh temple outside India.
It’s spectacular, and an interesting place to end an afternoon in this diverse neighbourhood.
Turks in Green Lanes
It’s a sign of Britain’s success as a melting pot that Green Lanes is home to Turks as well as Cypriots, Kurds and Greeks – folks not necessarily known for getting along back in eastern Europe and Asia.
With its bakeries, grocers, restaurants and kebab shops, at first glance the Grand Parade stretch of Green Lanes (one of London’s longest roads) between Harringay Green Lanes and Turnpike Lane stations doesn’t seem different from other high streets in the capital.
But when compared to the white-bread High Street just five minutes north (around the Wood Green mall and Tube station), with its chain stores and betting shops, it’s clear just how ethnically focused Grand Parade actually is – almost all the shops appear to have a link to a community back home.
But don’t let that put you off: there’s some stunning food (notably bread and pastries) to be had. Check out Yasar Halim Patisserie at 493 Green Lanes – the baklava is stunning.
Have a Turkish coffee. It’s brewed on a stove top in a pot with specially prepared coffee – it’s thick, full of flavour and delicious, and makes espresso look like a decaf soy latte.
Afro-Caribbeans in Brixton
Brixton is one of the most vibrant, diverse and interesting parts of London.
Perhaps the only things it’s lacking in diversity are gastro pubs, posh cafés and yummy mummies.
Brixton was the hub for the large numbers of Afro-Caribbean immigrants that arrived in London after World War II – known as the Windrush Generation after the ship, MV Empire Windrush, that brought the first boatload of new arrivals from the West Indies.
There’s still a sizeable black population. But perhaps most noticeable is the lack of white faces – this is one area where people who are usually the minority are the majority.
The markets – bounded by Atlantic Road, Coldharbour Lane and Brixton Road – are fantastic. While there’s nothing hugely original on offer, it’s a fascinating place to take a wander and listen to the huge number of accents.
Brixton is also a great place for going out.
Try Mass (mass-club.com), with its wide range of club nights; Dogstar, a very cool bar; and the Brixton Academy, one of London’s best and most famous live music venues.
If you want to get your hair braided this is the place – there are dozens of salons to choose from.
You often see women having their hair done at 3am. A full head of braids takes around eight hours, so the middle of the night is a good time to do it.
With about 300 languages spoken in London, and almost a third of the city’s residents from a non-white background, whether there are too many immigrants is a hot topic.
But it’s nothing new. For centuries London has had plenty of jobs on offer and been attractive to large numbers of immigrants.
According to Neil Amas, director of the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees at City University in London, most new arrivals want to embrace British values, and give something back to the country that took them in.
Choosing to live in a particular suburb with their compatriots helps with the settling in process (though many branch out once they feel settled), Amas says – and it doesn’t necessarily mean that immigrants don’t identify themselves as being British.
Anti-immigrant attitudes are understandable, Amas says, if you’ve lost your job and read in the media that immigrants are still finding work.
What’s needed, he says, is open debate about the issue, and leadership from the Government to explain to the public why people come to the UK, the economic and cultural benefits they bring, and the humanitarian principle of helping others.