around the world in 80 million bites: roast hog, octopus balls and injera at the incredible sunday upmarket

truman brewery on brick lane

continuing my series of posts on london’s amazing markets, i’m now going to deluge you with photos and effusive/obsessive words on the fantastic global bazaar of eats available at the sunday upmarket at the old truman brewery on brick lane. chris and i have hit up brick lane every sunday since we moved to hackney, but didn’t make it all the way down to the upmarket the first weekend as we were distracted by various household and junk items at heavily discounted prices (read: dug out of someone’s attic or stolen off the back of a truck).

luckily, we kept walking south the next sunday and happened upon an adorable stall of japanese food. impressed by the setup and unable to turn down anything involving street food and a deep fryer, we ordered the special donburi of assorted fried items and a slab of salmon on a bed of rice with salad and teriyaki sauce. YUM.

japanese food stall

having happily filled our bellies, we then turned a corner and walked down a narrow alley lined with stores and restaurants  into ely’s yard,  a huge lot filled with picnic tables, food stalls and tons of people. we then realized that a whole new world of food was before us and i mean LITERALLY a whole world – i’ve never seen food from so many different countries and cultures in one place in my whole life.  off the top of my head, i recall peruvian, japanese, thai, sri lankan, turkish, argentinian, russian, ethiopian, moroccan, peruvian, tibetan, chinese, spanish, brazilian and caribbean. oh yeah, and mauritius island food. SERIOUSLY? the two of us wandered around for ages with our mouths open, drool spilling unattractively from the corners, wishing we were cows and had four stomachs to fill with international delicacies.

picnic tables at brick lane upmarket

since we were both stuffed with friedness, we just wandered and ogled and took mental notes of what to eat when we returned the next weekend. which is exactly what we did, eamon in tow and stomachs ready to do some global adventuring.

we made a beeline straight for love-me-tender, a stall that roasts an entire pig and does these amazing pork and applesauce and rocket sandwiches. vegetarians, look away. pork lovers, commence salivating.

love me tender roast hog

the fragrance of their slow roasted hog with a mix of herbs and spices (i could only identify rosemary and fennel seeds) just might be the most enticing smell in the world. i should start bottling and selling it as perfume (i bet i’d get asked out more often if i started wearing it, but it would probably get a little awkward when my dates start licking my neck really early on in the evening, although i can’t say i’d blame them). stefan from love me tender

anyway. we bought two sandwiches and started chatting with stefan, the really nice guy who makes the sandwiches and the homemade applesauce, about the care and time they put into their meat. he talked about sourcing really good heritage pork and shot the breeze with chris, a former barbecue catering company man, about not rushing the process. the sandwiches were fantastic, although the meat was so good that the applesauce and arugula was almost too distracting to fully enjoy the savory, slow-roasted flavor. maybe next time i’ll see if stefan will just give me a big leg of pig to gnaw on.

next, chris and eamon went off to investigate the mexican food situation while i made my way over to a japanese food stall selling these intriguing little round thingies which turned out to be takoyaki or octopus balls. EXCITING! according to the description on a chalkboard with a cute little octopus cartoon, takoyaki is a ball-shaped pancake made of butter, pickled ginger, tempura scrap, spring onion, and diced octopus (which is kind of odd, as ball and pancake seem to be mutually exclusive shapes. wikipedia calls it a dumpling. whatever).  the ball/pancake/dumpling/sphere of interesting flavors is then topped with ‘honey-sweetened fruit and vegetable-based Japanese Worcester sauce’ (which i think is what they call worcestershire sauce here), the mayonnaise of your choice, seaweed, and bonito flakes. here’s a visual for you:

closeup of octopus balls

mmm. i stood and watched the takoyaki being made, which is actually a fascinating process. three people were carefully monitoring hot pans with rows of convex half-spheres, each armed with a tiny little pick like you would use to dip things in fondue.

people making the japanese octopus balls

they used the little picks to constantly rotate the balls in order to get an even browning on all sides of the sphere. i was curious as to the process of getting to the ball shape in the first place, which was answered when the guy on the left took out a big bowl of batter and poured it into the molds. making octopus balls

he then grabbed a big handful of diced spring onions (which i believe is the brit term for scallions/green onions) and sprinkled it over the top of the batter. after a few minutes, he used the poky thingie to draw lines on the pan in the rows and columns between each of the half spheres . once each of the balls had been effectively separated, he used the pick to scrape the surrounding batter into a mound in the center.  he dropped a few more ingredients into the ball and then started the rotating process again to keep the balls evenly cooked. it’s a fairly complicated and labor intensive process to do on-the-spot as a street vendor, which makes me appreciate these little balls of joy even more.

upon tasting the takoyaki, my first impression was OWWWWWWW. HOLY CRAP, THAT IS A BALL OF FIRE. the inside of the pancake is like a molten hot earth center of boiling lava that quickly sears your taste buds into submission. once my tongue finally recovered, it could appreciate the crazy mix of flavors in the octopus balls -the sweet teriyaki gooeyness of the sauce, the warm, mushy, buttery  pancake taste, the vaguely fishy chewy bits of octopus – it’s a huge party in your mouth and everyone you can possibly think of is invited.

after burning my own mouth and then destroying chris and eamon’s as well, i nabbed bites of their  pork, chicken, and mole tacos. my verdict? pretty good for london, which is notoriously bad for its ‘mexican’ food. but i acknowledge that i have what might be impossibly high standards after living in the mission for three years.

next stop on the international eating express train was the ethiopian vegetarian stall where we bought an injera with a mixed salad. injera is a spongy and slightly sour pancake eaten in a lot of eastern african countries, made from rice flour, wheat flour, sorghum flour, corn flour, yeast, and water, which was topped with three sauces and then rolled into a wrap.

ethiopian injera

the stall, uniqe injera, had the ingredients of all the sauces listed, which was helpful in determining all the complex flavors involved. the three sauces in the injera were:injera up close

meser wet: green lentils, ethiopian spices, garlic, onion, vegetable oil, tomato puree, parsley, and salt

gomen wet: spinach, potatoes, carrots, onions, tomato puree, garlic, green pepper, black pepper, vegetable oil, and salt

shiro wet: soya flour, green and red peppers, garlic, onion, vegetable oil, ethiopian spices, parsley, and salt

the stall also had a great spread of various vegetarian dishes like olives, cabbage salad, corn and bean salad, potatoes, and more. fresh, delicious, healthy, and all piled high on your plate. so tasty, so different and so worth it. ethiopian plate of injera wrap and veggies

there are even more wonders to come from the upmarket, but i’ll leave it there for now. only so much your eyes and your stomach can take at once. check back soon for a movie starring….fresh donuts!

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2 thoughts on “around the world in 80 million bites: roast hog, octopus balls and injera at the incredible sunday upmarket

  1. Daniel says:

    Hi Mei, I’d like to quote some of this blog post in a newspaper article and use one of your images. Could you email me please? Thanks!

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