I’ve been avoiding writing this post, mostly because it contains many things that I don’t know the names of, and I haven’t been able to do sufficient research to educate myself. But here’s what I got.
We checked out Brick Lane, also affectionately known as Banglatown (as it’s the center of the Bangladeshi community), in the evening after our Stonehenge trip. J had done some reading about it and was intrigued by the description of the neighborhood, which sounded quite different from the other areas we’d visited. Although we had to walk through a fair bit of rain and some seedy areas to get there, once we arrived we liked it quite a lot. We perused stores filled with labels we couldn’t read and products we’d never seen, side-stepped the slick restaurant workers trying to get you to eat at their establishment, and admired bakery cases full of novel and mysterious goods. The place we settled on for dinner had a polite elderly gentleman outside who was not as pushy as some of the other guys and assured us they had no corkage fee for our bottle of wine. We were able to each get an appetizer, main dish, and rice or naan for less than 7 pounds apiece. That night I ate vegetables samosas and chicken rogan josh (curry dish with tomatoes) with naan, and J got chicken madras with pilau rice.
Have I ever mentioned how much I adore naan? It’s probably one of my favorite bread products in the whole world. Warm, slightly sweet, the perfect foil for a spicy dish… mmm. Although actually my dish that night wasn’t very spicy or even very flavorful, and I was a bit disappointed. I used a bit of J’s madras sauce to add extra heat. The service at the place was great, so overall we really enjoyed our dinner (and sat there long enough to finish off our entire bottle of wine).
After dinner, we wanted to get dessert to take back home. We popped into a sweets shop (which was miraculously still open at almost 10 pm) that had a case full of goodies with no signs or descriptions. Do you know how exciting it is to go into a bakery and just start pointing at things, having no idea of what you’re actually getting? I loved it. After picking out four items, I asked the employee to recommend one, and he pointed at the orange-and-yellow ball. “This one’s good,” he said, so I got one of those too. Then we stopped at another bakery where J picked out two things. Here they are:
All laid out on a platter
I seem to have lost my tasting notes about these treats, so I’ll do my best to describe them from memory. The first one we tried was the orange ball recommended by the bakery guy. It was very sweet and only loosely held together in its ball shape, and it actually took me until the next day to realize that it’s most likely made of couscous.
The one on the center of the platter was two halves of a spongey pastry with a layer of white creme in the middle, all soaked in a sugar syrup. I didn’t like that one… I just don’t find the spongey texture with sugar syrup squishing out appealing, plus the stripe of creme in the center was pointless because it offered no change in texture or taste.
Then we tried the two lighter-colored cubes on the left of the plate. These, we concluded, we simply different versions of the same treat. The pale one struck me as too floury-tasting at first, but its subtle sweet flavor began to grow on me, and I loved the dense texture. The browner one had a toastier, more complex flavor, thanks (I’m guessing) to the addition of some kind of nuts.
Then came the darker brown cube towards the back. Oh my… it was SO GOOD. The hands-down favorite. A variety (I guess) of nuts held together by a thick, dense mixture that tasted of butter and dark caramel. Although it was very sweet, the earthy nuts helped to keep the sugary caramel flavor from becoming overwhelming. If I ever find myself in a Bangladeshi bakery again, I’m getting one of these. I just wish I knew what it was called.
The white snowball-looking one was interesting– light pink on the inside, only ever-so-slightly sweet, and coated in some kind of starch or flour, not sugar. I’m pretty sure it was made of farina. I related it to the kind of very simple roll or bun you might have alongside a morning coffee.
The final one was another pastry soaked in syrup. It had a more open crumb than the first syrupy one, rather like a soaked doughnut. Once again, I didn’t really like it.
So that was our exotic pastry adventure. We actually returned to Brick Lane for some more great food, but I’ll have to finish writing about that later!