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COLUMN: PG’s Tips - ‘There’s nothing quite like East End pie and mash’

Diss, Norfolk. Pete Gillings with the Zinc Lined caskets he bought ANL-140312-121729001
Diss, Norfolk. Pete Gillings with the Zinc Lined caskets he bought ANL-140312-121729001

Both sides of my family are from the East End of London, so naturally, I grew up with a taste for pie and mash.

For those of you that don’t know (and I had tried to explain this for ages without success), it is a mincemeat pie with a dollop of mashed potato and green gravy over it all.

Yep, I know, sounds appalling, doesn’t it? Well, don’t knock it till you tried it.

The nearest I’ve found to Diss that is as close to the East End dish is ‘Whites’ at Walton-on-the-Naze.

Growing up, families were split by “Who made the best pies?”

The two most famous were Cooks and Manze. I went against the family trend and went for Manze - it was like, who do you support, Arsenal or West Ham?

Not happy with that, the argument went on further: which shop was the best?

Mine was and still is the Manze shop in Walthamstow High Street.

A between-the-wars shop, although not the oldest, has the true feel of a real pie and mash shop, with its white tiled walls and ceilings, marble top bench tables and sawdust floors (to stop you slipping on the spit-out eel bones!). Most Eastenders still call it a pie and eel shop, mainly because the original pies had eel fillings.

In Victorian times, the Thames was full of them, so they were cheap. Also, Dutch fishermen would unload their eel catch at nearby Billingsgate Fish Market.

If working class locals wanted a day off from the easterly-blowing wind, bringing all the smells of London with it, they could get a day boat trip up the Thames and land on one of the islands.

It wasn’t long before the catering entrepreneurs set in and today, we have Eel Pie Island at Twickenham.

It always amazes me in all the time the BBC soap EastEnders has been on the box, I’ve never heard pie and mash even mentioned, let alone seen a shop.

Live eels are always on sale in the traditional shops and you can have them stewed or jellied - again not the best thing to describe.

Although having taken a huge knock by all the burger and pizza shops, the traditional pie and mash shop is getting a bit of a revival, with toffs wanting to ‘slum it’ and tourists wanting to try a dish of true ‘cockney grub’.

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