Are pie, mash, eels and liquor being forgotten about?
It's a staple British fast food dish that's disappearing off London's streets – but should we be embracing it more?
In recent decades, exotic foods have taken over the dozens of street food markets in London (and many other cities in the UK) with gyros, paella and other delectable dishes now adorning many city folks' lunchtime menus. But with the rise in popularity for foreign exotica on our plates comes the fall of traditional British fast food.
Now I'm not going to spend an hour writing about how fish and chips are descending into the gutter of forgotten foodstuffs, but rather an age-old East End of London fast food: pie, mash, eels and liquor.
The dish originated in the late 1800s as a cheap but tasty way to feed the working classes of the East End. The dish is mainly made up of a meat pie and mashed potato with a parsley liquor sauce (not gravy) that's made with a stock that comes from the process of cooking eels. Because of their abundance in the River Thames at the time (although now they are usually from elsewhere), jellied eels accompany the other items that make up the dish as a cheap, sustainable source of good, hearty grub.
Pies have obviously been around for centuries. Across England you can get a pie at a fish and chip shop with no hassle, but that's usually just a pie with (maybe) some peas.
Several well established pie shops in London claim to be the original inventor of the dish, with all of the trimmings. M. Manze, the oldest surviving pie and mash shop (which opened in 1890) is still run by the original owner's grandsons, and has several shops under its name. However, rival business F. Cooke believes their family invented the dish. It's quite funny that recently the companies have come to share a link – as a daughter of the Cooke family married a son of the Manze family. It is this couple's grandson that runs the aforementioned oldest pie and mash shop, M. Manze, on Tower Road.
Sadly, the dish – and the shops – have both seen better times, with many iconic pie houses having to put the lids on their pies for the last time due to rising rent rates and a lack of customers. Although some of the longest-running family-owned pie shops are disappearing at a rate of knots, the dish itself is sort of making a comeback – with modern pie shops opening in places in and around London. Plus, the remaining older pie shops are now getting some more customers from increased tourism.
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So, should we be rushing down to London to get a plate of traditional, good-for-you grub? For the most part, I think yes! You can get fancy food in many other cities across the country – but you can only realistically get pie, mash, eels and liquor in London (unless you cook it at home).
Not only that, it is quite healthy for you, more than people think, due to the fact that many pie shops make everything from scratch – with locally sourced meat and veg used in the dishes. Pie shops may have to adapt with things like vegan pies, but it means their businesses can last longer and stand the test of time.
Even if you don't live in London and can't get to a proper shop, why not make it at home? You could put your own twist on the recipe to make it just how you want it! Either way it's a great piece of London culture that shouldn't be forgotten – especially if you are visiting.