As a West Londoner with Italian heritage, Turkish best friends and having grown up in a predominantly Arabic neighbourhood, I was bound to be slightly confused by the time I reached adulthood. Having been immersed in the ‘Mediterranean way’ as well as the ways of other global cultures, I guess am like thousands of other Londoners who grow up associating smells, music or food from far away shores with the nostalgic feeling of home.
A Londoner grows up in a city where listening to Reggae and eating jerk chicken at Notting Hill Carnival, or hearing Hindi music floating out of windows into the air fill your every day and become, in a way, part of your own heritage regardless of your actual cultural heritage. At primary school we were lucky enough to be invited to storytelling sessions in Leighton House’s ‘Arab Hall’ where the story of 1001 Nights was recounted to us open eared children against the backdrop of 1001 blue and white intricate Damascene ceramics. Click here for a virtual tour of Leighton House or even better go and see it for yourself!
On my way home, my mother dragged me on as I stopped in amazement outside West London’s Iranian Markets, breathing the honey spiced air and gawping open-mouthed at mountains of pomegranates.
Take me North of London and I feel foreign. Take me to North London and I’m at home with a choice of the best Mediterranean eateries which thrive in a midst of diaspora and cultural addicts.
I salavate when I near Edgware road as its perfume of meaty charcoal and wafts of fruity shisha smoke hits the back of my palette. I long for a chicken Shwarma and melon juice. Portobello excites me not for its famous market, but for Spanish Deli Garcia and Son’s where I can stock up on Allioli, Turron and Valencian Chufi drink. Just five minutes from there, cutting through the top of Portobello Road, is Goldbourne Road where you can have Moroccan style grilled fish perched on a street kiosk, washed down with a fresh mint tea. For afters, pop over the road for a Portuguese pastry. You don’t have to look hard to eat well in London, nor does it have to be expensive. It’s easy to recreate that holiday feeling here, with the Mediterranean’s diaspora dotted around in pockets of this diverse city.
It’s not just the food you can divulge in, it’s all aspects of culture. Lucky for Londoners we’re well supplied by global musicians (if they can get a Visa to enter the UK!), and not the musicians who are known heart-throbs spewing commercial pop seen on Eurovision, but the ones who are storytellers and masters of their instruments. These performances are usually the wildest – I remember one time dancing on tables in a North London Bulgarian restaurant until 4 in the morning, with clarinet and synthesiser leaving my ear drums ringing for days to come. Boy, was it worth it.
I went to a Kurdish family’s barbeque a few weeks ago, there was more food than I have seen in a long time (and being used to Southern Italian style feasts this is really saying there was A LOT of food!) We sipped Raki while the host’s son played the Saz.. this was all, well, normal!
Only in London can you travel the world with an Oyster card.
Although fun and random as it is ending up in these secret London places, it wasn’t long before I craved to visit the countries I thought I already knew so well. But not the cities and resorts which littered the tourist trails, I longed to experience the REAL deal, to eat the local foods and to hear the local music. I have experienced most of the Mediterranean, but not the known Med, I have travelled to the places no sane tourist who values their personal safety would dream to stay for long! To Albania, to Kosovo and Macedonia, and quite literally risking my life to travel from A – B without a car dangling off the edges of mountain roads in knackered busses. Then staying in Napoli, where no stay would be complete without an attempted bag snatch. Lets not forget Ibiza where a car accident and an incident with a vegetable which almost blinded me added my list of thrill seeking adventures in the secret Mediterranean.
I love my Homeland of course. Put me on a blustery beach and I’ll be happy, I have a gaping sense of pride about being British, yet an even bigger sense of pride about being a Londoner; if you’re from London you feel worldly and able to survive any type of travelling ordeal with bit and pieces of language knowledge you pick up. I think I can say ‘cheers!’ in more than ten languages ;)
This blog is a personal journey of a culture addict.