Stretching from Marylebone to Bayswater, Edgware Road offers sights, sounds and smells that are a little different to many of Central London’s streets. Dating back to Roman times, the street is one of the oldest in Britain. The road is known for a number of reasons. In 1571, it became the grizzly thoroughfare leading up to the Tyburn Gallows, which previously stood where the Marble Arch now stands.
Thereafter, in the 18th Century, the area was settled in by a new community, French Protestant refugees called Huguenots. Other groups would follow, most notably Arabs, who first came to the street in the 19th Century as migrants from the Ottoman Empire. Later, other waves came in the 1950s and 1970s when people from various Arab nations including Egypt, Lebanon and Algeria, as well as other Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, came to London and made their homes in the area. Today, some of the business owners also hail from Gulf states such as Kuwait.
Edgware Road is sometimes known as “Little Arabia” or “Little Beirut”
It is this community that gave the street its popular reputation as a “Little Arabia” or “Little Beirut.” Today, the road is dominated by Arab and Middle Eastern restaurants, cafes and stores, often with a Lebanese flavour.
Speaking to the Emirati newspaper the National, the Director of the NGO the Caabu Council for Arab-British Understanding Chris Doyle dubbed the street “the epicentre of Arab and Middle East cuisine in London.”
The street is “the epicentre of Arab and Middle East cuisine in London.”
The street certainly is both well-known and popular for its Arab heritage, drawing tourists and residents alike. Rows of people often sit outside the street’s eateries and coffee shops, enjoying flavoured shisha or waterpipe smoke; but since the street is a key centre of Middle Eastern dining, kebabs are common too. Similar to Harringay High Street on the Green Lanes, which is known as London’s Little Turkey, the large number of kebab restaurants on Edgware Road also make it worthy of a reputation as another important focal point of the British Kebab Industry.
Britain’s Shawarma Street
Perhaps the most popular of Edgware Road’s kebabs is the fast-food favourite, shawarma. Shawarma, similar to its Turkish equivalent doner, consists of a large piece of meat, usually lamb or chicken, roasted on a rotating vertical spit. The meat can be marinated with a variety of spices including cinnamon, cumin, cloves, black pepper and salt. Sometimes the meat is left overnight to seal the flavour in before the spit is assembled, once ready, it cooks and browns as the spit rotates. When served, the chef then slices pieces off of the spit before serving them in wraps, often with pickles, garlic sauce and salad.
Some of the street’s most loved restaurants and cafes are Al-Dar, Al-Arez and Maroush. Some of these restaurants have even founded small chains on the street with different shops bearing the same or a similar name, but with a different function from the main restaurant, such as running an express service, patisserie or dessert parlour offering mint tea, baklava, cakes and sweets.
Sadly, the street’s awe-inspiring cultural vibrancy is not celebrated by everyone. Over two years ago, Edgware Road, its residents and businesses were the subject of a harsh social media attack by the far-right provocateur Katy Hopkins, who tweeted a video of the street and its many Arabic language shop signs, sarcastically inviting people to “guess the country”.
Another twitter user, the journalist Aleesha Khaliq fired back, mocking Katy for having inadvertently promoted the street. “Katie Hopkins actually played herself” Aleesha tweeted, “She posted a vid of Edgware Road saying “guess the country” and now dozens of people are planning on going there and eating at the restaurants. This is what makes me proud to be British. She gave them free advertising x”. After seeing Aleesha’s response to Katy’s remarks, an Australian tourist added, “I really want to go there too. I’ve saved the name of the street lol.”
We quite agree with Aleesha’s assessment. Edgware Road offers Londoners and visitors a unique taste of the Arab World and the British Kebab Industry with a variety of food, cultures, flavours and experiences. That is why BritShish says, “If you’re in London make sure you check the cultural and culinary hub that is Edgware Road out … if you haven’t already that is!”