Tasting Victorian London, One Eel at a Time

“It could probably cost £8 to create an eel pie now,” he said. “It wouldn’t be viable to create one anymore.”

These facts were not known to me when I corralled my sons, climbed to the upper ground of a bus and crossed the river, trekking to the London neighborhood of Southwark. M. Manze is the oldest of the remaining eel residences, with roots heading back to Mr. Poole’s grandfather, an Italian known as Michele Manze, who immigrated to Britain as a child in 1878 and opened up his first store in 1902. By 1930, the family had 14 eel outlets. Today, eel residences have dwindled and are even more of a curiosity, good for a picture op for prominent British pols or a cameo within an Elton John video.

Unassuming from the exterior, the eel shop all of us visited sits next door from a betting parlor and a humble tandoori joint. Nonetheless it seemed like we were onto something. There is a long queue out its door to obtain a spot at among its 11 tables. A round blue signal out entrance proclaimed M. Manze’s “The Oldest Surviving Eel & Pie Shop in London.”

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Whenever we walked inside, the centuries rolled backward. Behind a high counter, food rose up from your kitchen by dumbwaiter: much time trays of beef pies and metallic pails piled high with mashed potatoes.

“It’s such as a Victorian fast food place,” my older child Casey said.

A man sporting a Tottenham Hotspur jersey was at one table, a British mother in a Lakers cap at another. A big ruddy-faced man in a three-piece fit accented with a yellowish hankie was at a third. After briskly eating a final bite of beef, he acquired up and began to go out, nodding to the ladies behind the counter as he ambled past.

“Awwright women,” he said and took his keep.

We approached the counter tentatively.

“Could I get some eel pies?”

“No,” a female answered relatively gruffly, and still left it at that.

We retreated and looked up. It had been i quickly realized they served “eel & pie,” certainly not eel pie. I was still left to choose between jellied or stewed eels, with each plate about $5.50.

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My younger child, Eli, did not hesitate. “Beef,” he explained, fixating on a beef pie.

Perhaps he’d pointed out that each of the locals were eating beef pies, and that possibly the eel was even more a novelty for the bold, the curious, or American ex-pats such as ourselves. I didn’t pick up on this until much afterwards, even though the girl behind the counter was providing a stream of unsubtle signals.

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“Better have a flavour,” she warned us, depositing samples in small bowls. One consisted of large chunks of eel flesh, another got them encased in a very clear gelatin. I nibbled the jellied sample. There is no mistaking that it had been nautical. I switched toward my sons with resolve. The bus journey to get here have been about 40 minutes: There is no turning back nowadays.

The girl behind the counter sensed that which was coming.

“Oh gawd, you’re not going to make them check it out, aww you?” she explained.

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That seemed like an odd thing to state at an eel property. But I handed Casey a bowl. He took a bite of every, recoiled slightly, but held his ground.

“Stewed,” he said.

A heaping bowl of clear jelly rapidly glistened before me, wobbling over eel chunks. Casey’s was just a mound of eels. I’m uncertain who had the greater challenge. We picked at our foods delicately, probing like surgeons.

“Most of these bones,” Casey said, casting a feral glance toward his brother.

Eli have been enjoying his beef pie and drew it closer to his chest. Like most more youthful brothers, he was permanently guarding that which was his. He tightened his hold on his plate.

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Candidly, the beef pie had as well attracted my attention.

“Oh simply no you don’t,” Eli insisted to both of us. “Finish your meal.”

Mr. Poole afterwards explained that no more than a tenth of his consumers actually eat eels, and was unsurprised when I informed him that my more youthful child had refused to try.

“I wouldn’t have thought as a result,” he said. “You’ve surely got to be really open-minded to try eel for the very first time.”

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We can’t honestly say that Casey and I cleaned our plates, but we ate more eel than we very likely will in the rest of our lifetimes. There is a feeling of accomplishment. When that exceeded, we ordered a beef pie for ourselves and swiftly lowered it to crumbs. It started to be clear why everyone else was ordering the beef pies.

Slightly overwhelmed with what had just taken place, we reserve our plates and took a breath.

“That was …” Casey said, “peculiar.”

We bought some trophy T-t shirts, because we deserved to commemorate this in cotton across our chests. We had learned a crucial eel-house pro tip. Flavor the eel. Stick to the beef.

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