Visit London Blog » World in London Enjoy the very best of London Mon, 20 Apr 2015 15:31:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bangladesh in London: Tower Hamlets, Brick Lane and the Baishakhi Mela Thu, 19 Apr 2012 10:00:56 +0000

Ansar Ahmed Ullah from the Swadhinata Trust and Mariam Sheikh Hakim, a London-bred communications specialist and freelance writer have teamed up to tell us all about Bangladeshi culture in London for our World in London series.

The 2001 National Census recorded that 153, 893 people of Bangladeshi origin reside in London, with approximately 65,500 living in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Tower Hamlets has a rich history of welcoming different immigrant populations – from the French Huguenots of the 1700s to the Jewish immigrants of the late 1800s. Now the area is largely occupied by the Bengali Community and is the best place to experience Bangladesh in London.

The very first Bengalis who came to the UK were seamen, and were often ship’s cooks in the early 1900s. Back then Bengal was still part of India, and later, following partition in 1947, the majority of Bengal became East Pakistan.

The success story of the so-called “Indian” is the 10,000-12,000 restaurants in the UK, which are almost all owned and run by Bangladeshis. This started with the setting up of cafes ashore, which spread out from the docks.

By the 1970s, East Pakistan gained independence and sovereignty as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. After the independence of Bangladesh during the 1970s and 1980s, many more Bangladeshi families began settling in East London near Brick Lane as well as central London such as Camden – Drummond Street in particular. This led to an increase of cultural and religious activities in these areas, particularly in food, music, arts, literature, drama and now festivals in East London.

Today, Brick Lane – also known as Banglatown – has been dubbed the “Curry capital” of Europe, boasting more than 50 restaurants on just one street.

Since 1997, the Bangladeshi community in East London have been organising the Baishakhi Mela (Bengali New Year Festival) in Banglatown annually. The celebrations take place in Brick Lane, and adjoining streets, and include live music from two stages, Bengali food and a grand parade by children in costumes. The festival is often held in the second weekend of May and has now become an annual event for all Bangladeshis from the UK as well as Europe. Today the Baishakhi Mela held in London’s East End is the largest open air festival outside Bangladesh and West Bengal and the second biggest in London after Notting Hill Carnival.

At the Altab Ali Park at the very bottom of Brick Lane, there is even a replica version of the famous national Bangladeshi monument, the Shaheed Minar which commemorates Bangladeshi language martyrs.

So, in short if you want to experience Bangladesh in London, head to London’s Banglatown, as it’s the best place to start!

Note: We’ve used the term “Bengali” here to describe the language and culture from the Bengal region now spreading across West Bengal in India and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Do you have any other top tips for experiencing Bangladeshi culture in London? Let us know in the comments below…

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Croatia in London: D’Issa at Borough Market Thu, 29 Mar 2012 09:30:55 +0000

Maxine Clayman is a travel writer and editor of the blog My Hidden Gems. In the next in our World In London series she meets Croatian born Ana-Maria Volaric who explains why it’s her mission to bring a taste of Croatia to London.

“Last year my husband Chris and I decided to set up D’Issa, a company selling exclusively Croatian produce.

“I’ve lived in London now for 24 years and I’m married to a North Londoner. I’m originally from Zagreb and I still feel incredibly connected to my roots. I wanted to draw on my knowledge and passion for Croatian culture and introduce Londoners and visitors to the capital to Croatian food.

“Currently we’re the only Croatian retailer in the UK. We have a stall in Borough Market and we also sell to Fortnum & Mason and a couple of specialist delis in London. Our merchandise is quite high end, which may surprise a lot of people, as Croatia isn’t a country that’s necessarily associated with quality cuisine.

“There are only around 2,000 Croats living in London so our food is still relatively new to people. My aim is to educate Londoners about one of the best-kept gastronomic secrets Europe has to offer. For instance, it might come as a surprise to discover that some of the finest truffles in the world can be found in Istria, Croatia.

“Our fig products are proving incredibly popular with Londoners. Smokvenjak is a traditional Croatian fig cake made from dried figs, almonds, lemon juice, raisins, rosemary and sage. It’s packed with natural energy, so it’s good for athletes, and you can use it as a base for canapés, with cheese or ham.

“Pumpkin seed oil is another unique item that we stock. It’s got a wonderfully nutty flavour and is great for roasting and marinating meats. But my top tip is to drizzle it over vanilla ice-cream. Delicious.”

Visit D’Issa at Borough Market on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the Jubilee Market area.

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Brunei in London: The Brunei Gallery, SOAS Mon, 05 Mar 2012 16:39:01 +0000

Writing as part of our World in London series, John Hollingworth, Galleries/Exhibitions Manager at the Brunei Gallery, explores the gallery’s relationship with the South-East Asian Sultanate.

The Brunei Gallery, SOAS is an exciting venue in central London that hosts a programme of changing contemporary and historical exhibitions from Africa, Asia and the Middle East and accompanying events. The Gallery’s aim is to present and promote art, heritage and cultures from these regions to a wider and new audience.

The gallery was built as a result of a generous benefaction from HM The Sultan of Brunei Darussalam to SOAS with the purpose of being both a student resource and public facility, and was inaugurated by HRH The Princess Royal, as Chancellor of the University of London on 22 November 1995. In addition to purpose built exhibition space on three floors facilities include the Japanese Roof Garden, book shop, lecture theatre, teaching and conference amenities.

In 2008 the gallery’s relationship with Brunei continued as we hosted the exhibition “The Islamic Sultanate of Brunei: Past and Present Culture” which contained artefacts from  archaeological sites in Brunei as well as Islamic art objects from the collection of HM The Sultan of Brunei Darussalam.

The exhibition included a beautiful selection of royal regalia used during royal and state ceremonies since the introduction of the Malay Islamic Sultanate in the 14th century. This was the first and only time any of this material had been shown outside of Brunei.

The Brunei connection continues to this day, with a number of objects in our own permanent collection from Brunei, a selection of which is displayed in our Foyle Gallery. One of the most important of these is a handwritten 19th century copy of Salsilah keturunan Raja-raja Brunei (A History of the Rajas of Brunei).

Beyond our Brunei connections, the gallery has an exciting programme of events in 2012, including three exhibitions opening from mid-April:

The Brunei Gallery, SOAS is open from Tuesday-Saturday, 10.30am – 5pm, with late night opening on Thursday until 8pm. Admission is free. For more information visit or on facebook.

Have you been to The Brunei Gallery? Or do you know of any other London links with Brunei? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Latvia in London: The London Latvian House Fri, 02 Mar 2012 10:21:20 +0000

Karoline Zobens-East is a third generation British Latvian whose grandparents moved to Yorkshire after the Second World War. She co-founded We spoke to Karoline about the Latvian community in London:

I was born in London but from birth have been heavily involved in the Latvian community both in London and England. Although not an EU migrant myself, I interact daily with people who have moved to London from Latvia recently.

The Latvian Community in London

It’s difficult to know the exact number of Latvians living in London, but recent figures suggest the number could be around 20,000. The community itself is much smaller and we can usually expect around 200 people at a large scale event inLondon.

The community is very active with a choir, a traditional dance group, a school and various other organisations and groups. The community actively organises all sorts of events from theatre productions, music concerts and karaoke evenings, to Independence Day celebrations and more formal, traditional celebrations.

The London Latvian House

The London Latvian House is the beating heart of the Latvian community in London: Latvian people, food, drink, music, and atmosphere. It’s the only place in London you will feel the traditions of Latvia at any time of the year.

When the Latvian House was originally bought by the Latvian Welfare Fund (back in the 1950s) its purpose was to be the central meeting point for Latvians in London so they could feel at home away from home.

Nothing much has changed since then. It gives all Latvians in London and the UK a place to stay, to meet friends (there’s a bar in the basement) and to hold all sorts of events.

The choir, dance group and school all use the Latvian house for their rehearsals and classes and the hall provides a perfect space for a small scale concert.

The Latvian bar is a place where Latvians can enjoy Latvian music, food, beer and sports on a regular basis. There are always Latvian beers available to buy, as well as stronger drinks, and on Fridays and Saturdays it’s possible to eat a traditional Latvian supper cooked by Latvian chefs. Every evening ends up in the favourite Latvian pastime – song!

In addition to all this there is also a Latvian library in the house which is open a few days a week which has a vast collection of Latvian books.

I think the Latvian House will also provide Latvians in London a place to come and watch Latvians competing in the Olympic Games. I expect the men’s BMX races to of particular interest, as the current Olympic champion happens to be a Latvian!

Where to Sample Latvian Culture

Apart from the Latvian House and specific events organised by the community, I don’t believe there are any other places in London where you can experience Latvian culture.

However, Latvian produce is available at most Polish and Lithuanian shops so it’s always possible to find a Latvian delight for your dinner!

Setting Up

I set up around two years ago, with a friend who moved to England from Latvia. Apart from a couple of websites and newspapers, we felt there was a lack of information about Latvian communities in the UK, and for Latvians who have recently moved to the UK.

We have information designed to help Latvians settle into life in the UK, as well as news about and for Latvians living in the UK. Here they can find travel, education, work and emergency information. Our main audience is Latvians living in the UK, therefore, most of the website is in Latvian.

Is there anywhere else you can experience Latvian culture in London? Tell us in the comments below.

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Democratic Republic of Congo in London: Baloji at Village Underground Wed, 29 Feb 2012 12:18:04 +0000

Searching for Congolese culture for our World in London challenge, we came across rising Congolese-Belgian star Baloji.

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised in Belgium, Baloji combines rap and hip-hop with Congolese rhumba to create a unique sound.

You can catch him in London on 23 May, when he’ll perform his first London headline show at Village Underground.

Where else can you experience a taste of Congolese culture in London? Let us know in the comments below.

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Vietnam in London: Vietnamese Restaurants Thu, 23 Feb 2012 14:19:20 +0000

Thanks to the influx of Vietnamese migrants towards the end of the Vietnam war in the 1970s, London’s Vietnamese dining is as good as it gets.

A classic bowl of Vietnamese noodle-soup (Pho) is the place to start.  This flavoursome rice-noodle broth is the staple diet for most of the nation. Filled with the fresh aromas of ginger, lemongrass and spice, it’s served with a side plate of garnishes and you add in fresh herbs, bean sprouts and chilli to your liking.

It certainly beats a chicken tikka masala or fish and chips, (both contenders for Britain’s national dish), in my opinion.

To sample great Vietnamese food in London, begin in Shoreditch on Kingsland Road, where you can take your pick from numerous, inexpensive eateries.

Favourites include Song Que (make sure you try their spicy soft shell crab), and Old Street’s trendy Cay Tre around the corner for fabulous grilled fish and peanut-based broths.

Neighbourhood local Namo in Bethnal Green village, offers a lovely environment and top quality food and there’s now a second outlet Hop Namo in Shoreditch’s shipping-container shopping mall – Box Park.

If you’re after a Vietnamese feed in the West End, a second Cay Tre has now opened on Dean Street in Soho and it’s equally as popular as the original so make sure you pre-book. Due to being in the centre of town, prices are slightly higher but the food is just as good and they offer a menu of classic dishes and regional Vietnamese specialities.

For more central Vietnamese dining, look out for the Pho chain with outlets on Great Titchfield Street, Clerkenwell and Soho. No guesses what’s on the menu here!

If you want to sample more upmarket Vietnamese dining, take a trip to Bam Bou, by Charlotte Street. Housed in a beautiful wooden-floored townhouse, the three-floored restaurant offers upmarket Chinese, Thai and French Vietnamese cooking.

Vietnam’s French influences have culminated in national street snack – the Vietnamese baguette (Bánh mì) made up of fresh bread, your choice of marinated meat, pickled carrots, chilli and lashings of coriander. You’ll see many mobile baguette shops being wheeled through the streets of Vietnam.

Recently, Bánh mì shops have been popping up in London. Try Viet Baguette by Goodge Street, or, one of the originals – the Bánh mì 11 baguette stall on Broadway Market open every Saturday.

Read Jo Aspin’s blog for more foodie inspiration

Where else can you find Vietnamese culture in London?

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Cyprus in London: The Philhellenes Dancing Group and the Yasar Halim Bakery Tue, 21 Feb 2012 12:30:54 +0000

Journalist Marina Soteriou is a long-term London resident. Writing as part of our World in London series, Marina adds her experiences of Cypriot culture in the capital.

Every Thursday evening at a church hall in Waterloo, a group meet to perform dances which have been danced for centuries. They are the Philhellenes Dancing Group.

I joined nearly three years ago as I wanted to feel closer to my family on the other side of Europe, in Cyprus. The only thing I can remember from my dancing class at primary school in Nicosia was somebody finding a centipede in their shoe, but last October I performed seven Pontic dances at the annual Dance Around the World Festival at Cecil Sharp House in Regents Park.

The group has been running for 21 years, and has performed in Cyprus, Athens, Lesvos and Andros. In London, they’ve danced at the Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican and the British Museum.

Cypriots love a debate and since the so-called “Cyprus problem” has remained unsolved since 1974 – as a result of a Turkish invasion which followed a coup by the junta ruling Greece at the time – we are never short of a topic. Following the division, thousands of Cypriots came to live in London, when the Greek Cypriots fled to safety in the south and the Turkish Cypriots went north.

My grandfather, Andreas Soteriou, was from the beautiful village of Agios Epiktitos in the Kyrenia district in the North, perched high with breathtaking views of the coast. But being born in 1982, these lands were not known to me. The Cyprus I knew stopped abruptly where the rusty barbed wire and UN soldier was. The bullet holes in the Nicosia church we went to every Sunday morning were testament to the violence which was followed by decades of stalemate.

It was not until 2003 when the border crossings opened that the link with my ancestors could be restored and I could visit the house where my grandfather was raised, see his father’s grave and share gifts and stories with the Turkish Cypriot neighbours.

There is something restorative in folk dancing, knowing these intricate steps, double steps and jumps have been replayed for thousands of years and that now is just another dot on the timeline. Although we do not know what the future holds for Cyprus, we know these dances will survive.

Whenever I go back to Nicosia, one of the first things I like to do is go to Ledra Street in the city centre and buy a Papaphilippou ice cream and do as the locals do and promenade.

On one such visit, the first thing I saw was a group of Pontics in traditional costume performing their dances in the public square, the very same dances I have performed with my Bulgarian, Greek, English and Cypriot friends in the church hall in Waterloo on a rainy Thursday night.

For another slice of Cyprus, you can choose one of the many Cypriot restaurants all over London, but I prefer the hive of activity at the Yasar Halim Bakery in Haringey. The bakery was opened by a Turkish Cypriot in 1981 and has everything you can imagine, from the sweet Tahini tachinopites, to the Cypriot doughnuts dipped in syrup, “loukoumades”, which are eaten with the semolina-filled shiamishi at fairs.

To join the class or attend a Greek folk dancing workshop visit or email The next Dance Around the World folk dancing festival, which has performances and workshops, takes place on 20 and 21 October. Visit to find out more.

Do you know any other instances where you can sample Cypriot culture in London? Let us know in the comments below.

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Estonia in London: Verru Restaurant Tue, 14 Feb 2012 10:30:12 +0000

Writer Thom Wheeler, author of One Steppe Beyond: Across Russia in a VW Campervan, tells us where to find a taste of Estonia in our World in London challenge:

My first introduction to Estonia was working in a timber yard in Pärnu. Since then I have watched this alluring Baltic country blossom into a tourist favourite, emerging with purpose from beneath the Soviet shadows.

Estonia is one of Europe’s smaller countries, with a population of 1.34 million people. It’s therefore no surprise that the nation will only be represented in a handful of events at the Olympics later this year (the men’s Discus and the women’s 50m rifle shooting to name a couple).

It’s also not surprising that there’s only one top-class Estonian chef practising his art in London: Andrei Lesment opened Verru restaurant in the heart of Marylebone village early last year. Until that time, gastronomy was just another discipline in which Estonia was under-represented in the capital.

The menu at Verru reflects Lesment’s Estonian roots, offering dishes that fuse Baltic and Scandinavian flavours. As he explained to me:

“Estonia throughout history has been influenced by many countries… we have been invaded… a lot. It was these influences, so strong in shaping my homeland, that I wanted to bring together when defining Estonian cuisine and the restaurant in London.”

For me, you can’t beat the rustic delights and fairytale charm of Tallinn’s old town, however, if you want to sample the flavours of the Baltics without going anywhere near a budget airline, Verru is a good choice.

Thom continues to travel, write and teach in the former Soviet countries. Find out more at

It might be a struggle, but does anyone know any other examples of Estonian culture in London? Let us know in the comments below.

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Palestine in London: The London Palestine Film Festival Thu, 09 Feb 2012 16:00:43 +0000

Next in our World in London blog challenge is Palestine. The 2012 London Palestine Film Festival runs from 20 April 20 to 3 May. Sheyma Buali celebrates the rise of this unique event on London’s cultural calendar. 

For 15 years, the London Palestine Film Festival (LPFF) has been engaging growing London audiences with quality film made in and about Palestine.

Amongst the first festivals of its kind in the world, today the LPFF and its curatorial umbrella, the Palestine Film Foundation, is the leading authority on Palestinian cinema, consistently bringing rare and hard-to-find films to London screens. The Festival showcases both the newest in Palestinian production, and exposes audiences to classics and rediscoveries from across the breadth of cinema history. 

As a relatively diverse and progressive city, London makes an inviting space for cross-cultural and political debate; it is this open characteristic that explains the growth of Festival audiences.

The LPFF has built strong partnerships with a wide variety of London-based arts initiatives; it has also secured precious statutory funding for its unique contribution to the city’s rich cultural calendar. The Festival exists today as a Palestine-focused project that is emphatically at home in the British capital. 

First held in 1998 with a VHS recorder in a classroom at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), today the LPFF takes place over a fortnight at four major venues across the city. The bulk of the programme is hosted at the Barbican Centre. But in keeping with its origins and the Foundation’s belief in the educational role of film-led debate, the LPFF maintains a number of screenings at University of London venues, offered on a “pay-what-you-can” basis, ensuring no-one is priced out of the Festival. 

The LPFF’s strengths lie in both the richness of the films on offer, and in the calibre of its guest speakers. Indeed, for the Palestinian and broader Arab communities in London, the LPFF’s value derives from establishing new spaces for cultural and intellectual exchanges, bringing London communities together with students, actors, academics, and cineastes alike. In recent years, the Festival has attracted leading directors Michel Khleifi, Elia Suleiman, Kamal Aljafari, and Eyal Sivan and renowned scholars and writers Ella Shohat, Ahdaf Soueif, and Ilan Pappe. With scores more preeminent speakers engaging with Festival audiences annually, the LPFF has emerged as a prized space for London audiences to discuss myriad questions related to Palestine in thought-provoking and fresh ways.

As the Festival has continued to expand beyond cinema screenings, an annual visual arts exhibition has been added to its highlights. Remarkably, this remains free to the public, hosted at the Barbican Centre. The 2012 exhibition provides a rare showcase of work by 15 video artists from Palestine (6-27 April).

With its annual fortnight packed with panel discussions, UK Premieres, art exhibitions, director talks, and even a new youth outreach programme, the LPFF is firmly on its way to becoming the leading cultural event related to Palestine in Europe. What’s more, this year promises an additional bonus in the form of three special “Pre-Festival Events” from late March – stay tuned online for details, tickets, and updates:

Can you suggest any other places to get a taste of Palestinian culture in London? Let us know in the comments below

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The Cook Islands in London: Captain James Cook Wed, 08 Feb 2012 11:34:25 +0000

One of the smallest nations competing in London 2012, The Cook Islands in the South Pacific is named after British Royal Navy Captain and East London resident James Cook.

Originally settled in the 13th century by migrants from what is now French Polynesia and Samoa, the islands were surveyed and charted by Captain Cook in 1773 and 1777.

As well as The Cook Islands (known as the Hervey Islands until the 1820s), James Cook also charted New Zealand, Hawaii and the eastern coast of Australia.

Cook’s ship The Resolution encountered The Cook Islands archipelago in 1773 while searching for the mysterious “Terra Australis”. On his return to London, Cook was promoted to the rank of captain and offered honorary retirement from the Royal Navy as an officer in the Greenwich Hospital, sited at the Old Royal Naval College.

However, he returned to The Resolution on his third and final voyage and revisited The Cook Islands in 1777. He was murdered two years later in The Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii.

Cook has a firm place in the history of many Pacific nations, and his navigational skill and legendary voyages are marked in museums and statues across the region.

In addition to The Cook Islands, his name has been given to places in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Kiribati and most recently a crater on the moon.

In London, artefacts from Cook’s voyages can be found at the Royal Museums Greenwich, including a replica of the famous H4 Marine Chronometer and there’s a statue of Cook in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum.

You can also see blue commorative plaques at Cook’s former London homes at Shadwell (340 Highway marks the site of Cook’s house at 126 Upper Shadwell) and Mile End (89 Mile End Road marks the site of Cook’s house at 7 Assembly Row).

Do you know of any other London connections with The Cook Islands? Let us know using the comments section below.

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