Jerk chicken, coleslaw, rice n’ peas
Last week I took the bus through Hackney (along Kingsland High Road) with my friend C. Looking through the bus window at all the delicious-looking exotic vegetable shops, halal butchers, and the chaotic Ridley Road Market, I was thinking that if I were to move to a different neighbourhood in London, I might like to go to Hackney. It seemed so full of life, rent was slightly cheaper, I could cycle to work – what more could I want?
My friend C is a Londoner born and bred, and she immediately scoffed. “B, only this street! I mean, yeah, this is great, this is ‘trendy poor,’ but go two blocks away and there is nothing and you take your life in your hands walking home from the bus!!” Right, I thought. Good to know.
For those of you who don’t know, Hackney was named worst neighbourhood in the UK last year on a national TV programme. It is a complex area of London – in the heart of new development for the Olympics, but still home to some of the city’s most deprived citizens. But we hadn’t come to Hackney to debate gentrification and issues of mixed communities. We came for the Caribbean take-away from Peppers & Spice.
As we lined up outside (Peppers & Spice always has a line) to grab our take-away, I got to thinking about the term “trendy poor”. I mean, I wanted to live in Hackney as it is a neighbourhood with people from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds, there are many independent local businesses I could support, the restaurants around it are inexpensive and diverse and I would be able to get to work easily. But all of those reasons seem to fade away when you consider the lives and struggles contained in this neighbourhood as just a fashionable flash in the pan for a middle-class, educated, suburban Canadian like myself. What’s a girl to do?
Mac n’ Cheese
But I soon forgot all these mental conundrums when the food arrived. C ordered for both of us, and the girl got a little carried away in her order for two people: jerk chicken with rice, peas and salad; oxtail and butterbeans with rice, peas and salad; macaroni and cheese; fried plantain and a dumpling. Lord help us. The menu at Peppers & Spice is pretty traditionally Caribbean, with patties, different goat and lamb curries on offer, and drinks imported from Jamaica. They have some dishes they make daily, while others rotate – there are schedules posted on the wall of when dishes are made.
Oxtail and Butterbeans with Corn Salad
After we picked up the food we had a challenging and long bus journey up to Edmonton where we could finally tear into our now grease-saturated bags and eat to our hearts’ content. It was so so so good. We were able to split everything into 3 giant plates (one for C’s brother) and we still had food left over. I had never tried oxtail before, and I found it to be tender – a bit like fall off-the-bone spare ribs. The whole meal was deliciously decadent and rich; I don’t think I was hungry for two days afterward.
All Together Now: Oxtail with butter beans, mac n’ cheese, rice n’ peas, plantain, dumpling and jerk chicken
The prices at Peppers & Spice are, of course, reasonable. The total for everything came to £18, and C insisted on paying for me which I will have to make up for soon by cooking a very nice meal of some kind. I’m actually getting quite hungry thinking about this right now, so I’ll close with my verdict: 5 fingers out of 5 (it checked all the boxes: atmosphere, food, price, location, service).
And as for Hackney – I still consider it my next destination in London. It may not have the best transport connections, but it’s one of the beating hearts of life in the city. I would rather live next door to someone who could tell me where to buy a camel’s head if I needed one, than be in South Kensington where there is not an independent green grocer to be found for several kilometres, and where my corner shop is a Selfridges.