The best way into a man's heart is through his stomach, but whoever came up with such a sexist idea must have never been fed. On the other hand, the best way to introduce yourself to a new culture is through your stomach. We all know that the best opportunity to do this is through the food stalls at the markets around London. Just a few steps to the side of Brick Lane's curry road, the smell of herbs, spices and exotic flavoured meats hit you like a hipster steamroller (which is ironic, considering they don't work on the roads).
One stall caught my mind's tongue one Sunday at the Truman Brewery. Beyond the traffic lights of the red, yellow & green curry, this stall hints that there's more to Thai cuisine beyond the obvious. The beef curry I had was a marked contrast to the traffic light system, but the dish had the hallmark subtlety of Thai food. The spices were balanced and not aimed at the macho twenty pint a night, a vindaloo and a fight demographic.
How subtle was it?
It was spicy, obviously, but there was a sweetness to it that gave it more nuances than anything a Football hooligan is used to, such as the use of more delicate spices, as opposed to chilli that would be suited to pepper spray. This gives it a refined quality that was complimented by the jasmine favoured rice. Given you can also have it with noodles too, you really can have it both ways.
This is served in a market selling everything for a budding Nathan Barley, from Bluetooth speakers for your iPhone, to up and coming fashion designers, the enjoyment of the tastes can be blunted by the cacophony and your perception of them is dulled, but the food in the most buzzing part of London is a real treat on a winter's day.
You can expect anything from Ethiopian to Mexican, right down to the unexpected. I once had medieval Tuscan food here once, which is so post-modern it's archaic. Anyway, the USP of this stall is that it is a way in to a culture unlike our own. We think we may know a culture through their cuisine, but they're trying to win hearts and minds through our stomachs. Just writing this makes me realise it's true, but not in the way you expect. They're not trying to appease us, but say: "this is our culture, our cuisine, take it or leave it." I suggest you take it, it might capture your heart.