What is it about?

In 2010, the Brick Lane area contained around 70 curry cafés and restaurants, making it the unofficial 'Curry Capital' of the UK. By the summer of 2021, the number of venues had decreased to 22. The reasons for this are complex and multifaceted and are explored in this article.

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Why is it important?

Brick Lane is one of London’s most iconic streets. Over the centuries, it has served as a haven for Huguenots and east European Jews fleeing religious persecution, as well as Irish fleeing the famine. More recently, Bengalis, mostly from the Sylhet area, came to the UK as a result of political and economic upheaval at the time of Bangladesh’s independence. Many settled along Brick Lane and the adjoining areas. Because of the lane’s social, cultural, and economic significance to the Bangladeshi diaspora – it was instrumental in the renaming of the neighbourhood as Spitalfields and Banglatown in 2001, for example – some first-generation British Bangladeshis continue to say, ‘There are three Bengals: west Bengal, east Bengal, and Brick Lane’. Nonetheless, super-gentrification in the housing, office building, and hotel and catering sectors threatens this inner-city area's working-class character and employment patterns. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are amplifying this trend.


With input from colleagues at the University of Manchester and the LSE, this paper allowed me to map and analyse some of the changes that have converted Brick Lane from a largely Jewish high street to a Bengali one. Together with sweet shops, grocery stores, barbershops, and the Jamme Masjid (mosque), the cluster of curry cafés and restaurants forms a visible and vibrant ethnically defined commercial quarter - formally designated as Banglatown (and part of the Spitalfields and Banglatown electoral ward). Despite the addition of several new businesses, including a French cafe, a Syrian-owned Lebanese café, a Chinese restaurant, and several vegan eateries, Bangladeshi enterprises continue to dominate the southern section of the street. The key question, though, is whether Bengali Brick Lane will be able to withstand a new wave of gentrification.

Dr Seán Carey
University of Manchester

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The rise and fall of Brick Lane's ‘Curry Capital’, Anthropology Today, September 2021, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/1467-8322.12675.
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