Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In the east out west

Members or supporters of the BNP might like to skip this post - you'll only get upset. For this is the promised report of our recent day out in Southall. For the rest of us, this is a longer than usual post, stick with it if you ever fancy an unusual day out in an Asian community.

Bordered by canal on two sides (the Paddington Arm, and the Grand Union at Hanwell), Southall is home to a huge community of, predominantly, Punjabis. It has the largest Sikh temple outside of India. Together with our friends Phil and Janet, we planned a day to sample the sights and tastes of the town.

The first stop was the amazing outdoor food market. Wow, I've never seen such cheap prices for fruit, veg, and fresh fish. I reckon on average about a quarter of supermarket prices. How? Well firstly because Indian people have extended families and are not afraid to buy and cook in bulk. Some of the cooking pots on sale must have held ten gallons. I saw a lady buy a whole bucket full of sardines, and things like limes and lemons were selling in 5lb boxes for £2. Then they have the sensible attitude of accepting produce which is not regulation size, eg baby aubergines and short cucumbers and may have the odd blemish. Of course there were mountains of fresh chillies, ginger, garlic, and vegetables I didn't recognise. If you go there take a couple of carrier bags and fill them up for three or four quid.

The main street is full of Asian shops, clothes, jewellery, spices, sweets, music, and books. Some of the clothes are sensational, especially the beautifully elaborate wedding outfits for men and women. The embroidery and the fabrics are extravagant but still somehow tasteful. I especially liked the long straight embroidered coats for the men. No I'm not having one!

Strangely we saw very few restaurants. You probably have more Indian restaurants in your town. I guess Indians still like to cook and eat at home, although there were a lot of snack stalls selling sticky sweet things and a few samosas. We found a restaurant called Rita's where the food was mostly vegetarian, delicious and reasonably cheap. There were none, well hardly any, of the usual Indian restaurant dishes so we each took a guess and tried something different. A chickpea curry called chole featured in many of the dishes and I'll definitely try to cook it at home.

It happened to be the day of Diwali -the Indian festival of light, so all the locals were out buying fireworks and boxes of sweets for the celebrations that evening. We went to see the huge Gurdwara temple in Havelock Road, and the people were pouring in to get their traditional Diwali blessing.

An cheery elderly gent in a turban and a tweed jacket approached us and encouraged us to go in and have a look, so we did. Taking off our shoes and donning a headscarf from a basket in the vestibule we ventured into the huge inner space. Downstairs seemed to be given over to food, with people queuing at a canteen. The whole place is carpeted, probably nice carpet, but as it was totally covered in protective sheets we couldn't see it!

Upstairs was the main worship space under a huge glass dome. We hovered outside and a smiling lady encouraged us to go inside. "Just go inside, put your hands together and do a little bow, and sit and watch". We sat on the floor at the back watching the steady procession of people walking forward for their blessing, while song from a musician and a singer at the front provided the real atmosphere of the East. After a while we left, only then noticing that Phil and I had been sitting on the women's side of the hall! Anyway no one seemed put out, or maybe they were too polite to say so.

Lastly we thought we'd try an Indian pub, the Glassy Junction, claiming to be the first pub in Britain to accept rupees as currency. Inside, a pool table, TV showing Indian cricket, pictures of Indian luminaries and of course Cobra and Kingfisher lagers alongside the ubiquitous Guinness.

Returning to Herbie, moored at the Fox in Hanwell we spent the evening listening to the Diwali fireworks, although sadly, being behind the hill we couldn't see them.

As a day out from your boat, I can recommend it. As a memento Janet bought us a Diwali greetings card, which is a strong reminder that for all the religious and cultural differences demonstrated on the front of the card, when you look inside you find there is still something quaintly English.

No comments: