A minced-beef and pastry pie with a generous side of mash, swimming in a parsley liquor sauce. Not particularly pretty to look at on the plate but as we all know – looks can be deceiving! The traditional East End dish has been feeding and satisfying Londoners for generations, and hopefully, more generations to come. Entering one of the shops is like taking a step back into the past, with Victorian decor still being present in most. Tiled walls, wooden benches and serving hatches, these shops hold stories and memories to savour over a hearty lunch or supper.
Pie ‘n’ Mash, the cockney classic, has been around since the mid-1800s. Initially served as street food for the Victorian working classes, the first Pie and Mash shop opened in 1844 in Southwark. It wasn’t long before they became common place on every street. Today sadly, there are possibly fewer than 30 shops remaining in London. Originally known as Eel Pie Houses, their popularity is declining due to the strong competition from the high street, which leaves many of the historic traditional shops struggling to survive.
One of the oldest surviving Pie ‘n’ Mash shops, M. Manze in Bermondsey, has been around since opening in 1891. They have unapologetically and proudly made few changes to their interior, façade and menu. Improving and modernising sanitation has been the only improvement to keep up with modern way of life. The minute you walk in, it is hard to ignore the buzzing and busy atmosphere with the girls behind the counter chatting and laughing while serving you your happy hearty meal.
As well as experiencing the step back in time, you are also walking into a culture of cockney life that is difficult to find in many places today. The servers are loud, friendly and possibly a little intimidating to some, but remain true and proud of their cockney heritage. A simple request ‘what do ya want babe?’… can send you into a panic, especially if you have been listening the people served before you who seem to be talking in a type of code (for example ‘3 lots of Double double with…’ equates to 3 servings of 2 pies with 2 mash with liquor ‘Double single without…” is 1 serving 2 pies 1 mash no liquor). Even after the initial stress of ordering your meal, often out of the blue, one of the servers will shout at the top of her lungs “MORE PIES” which has many a time made me jump out of my skin. Once you are sitting down and enjoying the true delight of this traditional fodder, you have a chance to sit back and fully appreciate the friendly sense of humour, community spirit and loyalty that the people in this part of town still proudly display.
The dish although simple, is hard to fault. In a world of contemporary cooking it is rare to find a meal which comforts and delightfully satisfies the taste buds, whilst keeping alive a London tradition that goes back over 200 years. It is sad to see such culture and history slowly disappear, but hopefully there will still be generations of London babies brought up on eating mash and liquor mix, sat on mum’s lap eating off a teaspoon. I for one will be doing my bit to keep this food tradition alive and if you haven’t experienced it for yourself why not make it a ‘must do’ this year? Here are Time Out’s nest Pie ‘n’ Mash Shops to get you started…www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/londons-best-pie-and-mash-shops