The story of London’s Bangladeshi community
London is brimming with all kinds of cultures. Neil Simpson uncovers how the Bangladeshi community built a home away from home
Brick Lane in east London is home to a mind-boggling array of Bangladeshi restaurants. It’s also where writer Kia Abdullah grew up. She explains to us how this vibrant community took root: ‘The borough of Tower Hamlets has a long tradition of welcoming immigrant populations. Bangladeshis came to London in the 1950-1960s and in greater numbers in the 1970s, in search of employment and stability. The East End’s thriving clothing industry offered work in the textile trade as cutters, machinists, pressers and finishers. With their new-found capital, some of these workers opened cafés. From there grew the large network of successful Bangladeshi restaurants and shops that we
see in and around Brick Lane today.
‘In east London, it can seem like people from different communities live separate lives that rarely cross over. However, everyone speaks the language of haggling: my mother speaks very little English but I’ve seen her expertly negotiate with a white-British stallholder. Bangladeshi women of her generation are extremely resourceful: they will purchase the freshest fish for close to pennies, purely through the arch of an eyebrow or a creasing of the lips. The non-verbal language of gestures and miming is very much part of the fabric of this city.
‘There is so much to see in Tower Hamlets. I recommend visiting Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, one of London’s “magnificent seven” cemeteries built in early Victorian times. Burials ceased in 1966 and today, the 30 acres of woodland are managed as a nature park.
‘If you’re after something traditionally Bangladeshi, I would suggest Café Grill on Brick Lane. It’s no-frills in terms of decor, but offers authentic food at affordable prices.’
A travel writer and novelist, Kia’s new book is entitled Take It Back. The story is a courtroom drama set in east London – ideal if you’re looking for a book that will immerse you in the city.