In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Queuing up for Q in London’s East End
  • John Shelton Reed (bio)

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Figure 1.

A whiff of hardwood smoke will lead you to a purposely unprepossessing barbecue joint next to the almost-as-shabby Café Mediterraneo. A large sign announces that this is the Arkansas Café. Photograph courtesy of John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed.

[End Page 82]

Southerners don't go to London to eat barbecue. At least we shouldn't. But after we've been there awhile, it's understandable if we get a craving flung on us, as Jerry Clower used to say. When that happens, there's a solution.

As lunchtime approaches, take the tube to Liverpool Street Station. Go outside, cross busy Bishopsgate (be sure to look right), and turn to your left. You're on the edge of the City of London, so if it's a weekday you'll be surrounded by scurrying yuppie bankers and brokers. Walk a block or so, past Artillery Lane, and turn right into Brushfield Street. (If you see the ostentatious new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development across the street on your left, you've gone too far.) Now you're entering Spitalfields, in London's East End. Ahead is Nicholas Hawksmoor's eighteenth-century Christ Church, recently restored to something like its original magnificence. (Across the street from it is the Ten Bells pub, where Jack the Ripper met his girlfriends.) In the eighteenth century this neighborhood was a haven for Huguenot refugees, who made it a center of the silk-weaving industry. Later it attracted Jewish immigrants, most of them workers and traders in fabric, leather, and furs. (They developed the Petticoat Lane street market nearby, which still operates every Sunday.) These days Spitalfields is home to the largest concentration of Bangladeshis outside Bangladesh. If you went another block past Christ Church you'd come to Brick Lane, the center of "Bangla Town," famous for its great curry houses. But we're after barbecue, remember?

So turn left before you get to the church and go into the old, covered Spitalfields Market. For over three hundred years, from 1682 until 1991, this was one of London's principal fruit and vegetable markets, and there is still an organic produce market every Sunday. Parts of Spitalfields are being gentrified, as old warehouses are converted to trendy lofts, and City slickers and (rich) artists move into Georgian terrace houses that used to be sweatshops. There are plans to do over the market as well, with stuff like a tapas bar and designer boutiques, but for the time being it remains a pleasantly seedy agglomeration of stalls selling African sculptures, old phonograph records, handmade greeting cards, furniture, movie posters, clothing, and, well, schlock. Scattered here and there are vendors of fresh-squeezed fruit juice, homemade bread, Thai noodles, jacket potatoes, crepes, meat pies, goulash, falafel, nasi goreng, and other delights. Be strong. Ignore them, and follow your nose.

A whiff of hardwood smoke leads you to a purposely unprepossessing barbecue joint next to the almost-as-shabby Café Mediterraneo. A large sign announces that this is the Arkansas Café. An equally large sign says, confusingly, that it is "The Bubba's Pit BBQ," and there are a great many smaller signs, among them "We Be Ribs," "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service," and "BY APPOINTMENT TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE AMERICAN AMBASSADOR PURVEYORS OF PULLED PORK, PIGS AND RIBS / THE ARDANSAS CAFÉ." This is, as one reviewer put it, "a refreshingly non-minimalist environment." [End Page 83]


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Figure 2.

Chances are good that the proprietor, Bubba, will be standing outside, grilling meat and chatting with passers-by. Behind him stands an enormous, reassuring smoker, for the barbecue, all of it cooked over split wood and charcoal. Photograph courtesy of John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed.

Chances are good that the proprietor, Bubba—his passport says "Kier Helberg"—will be standing outside, grilling meat and chatting with passers-by. He's grilling, not barbecuing. He knows the difference. Behind him stands an enormous, reassuring smoker, for the barbecue, all of it cooked over...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 82-87
Launched on MUSE
2005-08-29
Open Access
No
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