Down-and-Out in Brick Lane

London, England

About 10 years ago, I spent a summer working in London at the Great American Bagel Factory (a tale best told another time). A dollar fifty bought one British pound. When I landed at Heathrow yesterday, $2.04 bought £1. This means a simple Value meal at a British Burger King can cost upward of $12.

Thankfully, Emily introduces me to Brick Lane, the East London neighborhood packed with Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants. Restaurant barkers stand on street corners.

“Hungry? Want dinner? Good food here,” they say, as conspiratorially as drug dealers.

My appetite, however, is earmarked for Beigel Bake. This all-night bakery’s namesakes are smaller, chewier versions of bagels. You can either buy them plain, or eat them split and filled with your choice of meats and spreads.

“What’s the best?” I ask the matronly counter lady.

“Hot salt beef,” she replies, motioning to a heap of pinkish corned beef near the front window.

Mims and I order both a salami and a hot salt beef beigel, each coated with pungent English mustard. The salami is the vibrant pink of Barbie accessories, but thanks to the mustard and some butter it is edible. Barely.

The hot salt beef is a revelation. The fall-apart meat is incredibly briny but balanced by the mustard. Best of all, it’s only $5 U.S.

For dinner that night, we go back to our skinflint ways. We get greens, tofu, and curry paste from London’s itty-bitty Chinatown, then cook up a great mess of spicy, Thai-inflected eats.

“That was the best meal I’ve had in days,” Emily says. “Can you guys move here full time and be my personal chefs?”

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