Turkish food is having a moment. We’re seeing more and more Turkish tavernas, kebab joints and street carts popping up across London’s high streets.
It is now one of the top four cuisines in Tower Hamlets, surpassed only by British favourites Indian, Italian and Chinese.
There are almost a third more Turkish restaurants in the area than other popular picks such as Thai and Mexican.
Turkish migration patterns may account for the increase. The number of Turkish-born people living in Tower Hamlets has more than doubled since 1991. Tower Hamlets is now home to more than 1000 Turkish people according to Eastlondonlines’ analysis of the most recent census data.
Between 2001 and 2011 the Turkish population rose by 26 per cent and now makes up 0.4 per cent of the total population in Tower Hamlets.
Turkish restaurant manager Sait Uzun, who runs Efes in Whitechapel, said that Asian cuisine such as Bengali dominates the Tower Hamlets food scene for now. He predicts, however, that the number of Turkish restaurants in the area will continue to rise.
He said: “In the Turkish community, if you see one Turkish restaurant or family doing well, the rest of them start coming into the region as well. So you’ll definitely see more Turkish restaurants in this region.”
Uzun plans to open two more Turkish restaurants on Brick Lane, as well as one in Mile End, all within the next two months.
On kebabs as a Turkish favourite he added: “Realistically we don’t have kebab every day at home. We have stews, rice and those kinds of dishes. Kebab is more for summer time when you have the family round.”
“But when you’re walking down the pier in Istanbul, a lot of people will have their food in stand-up grills and they’ll serve it to the people walking by. We try to keep our food as authentic as possible.”
James Ramsden, a food writer and co-founder of the Kebab Kitchen in south-east London, said he is pleased to see Turkish food moving away from its association with heavy, late-night drinking.
He opened Kebab Kitchen three years ago, alongside fellow food scribe Oliver Thring, after realising that no one else in the London street food scene was selling kebabs.
He said: “Before we opened Kebab Kitchen we went to Turkey for a research trip. Turkish cuisine is incredible. But in Britain, kebabs had evolved into something just convenient to make and cheap to buy. We’ve seen that with other dishes too, such as fried chicken.”
He added: “I think this [association] is a shame, but it’s being rectified now as there’s been a shift in the last few years and we’re seeing more quality Turkish restaurants popping up across London. People definitely have the appetite for it.”