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.
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…