Pie ‘n’ Mash

Pie and Mash is quite simply the most traditional food that London has to offer. Forget your chip shops and burger bars, “Eel Pie and Mash Houses” have been around since the early 1800’s – the first ones opening in pre-Dickensian and Victorian London.

One of the major influences over the food traditions in London was the river Thames. It provided fish, both fresh and salt water, meat, vegetables and fruit were transported from around Britain, and spices and exotic foods from all over the world. The importance of the trading ships and the great markets like Billingsgate, Spitalfield and Smithfield can be seen in the names of roads in the East End, such as Bread Street, Milk Street and Fish Street.

The other great working class tradition is pie and mash. Historically, the pies were made from scraps of beef and vegetables, leftovers or from the local markets, under a pastry crust. The mashed potatoes were liberally covered in parsley gravy or “liquor”. There has been a great revival in these dishes and quite a number of “ Pie n Mash” restaurants can now be found across London.

Pie and mash is a traditional London working class food. Pie, mash and stewed eels shops have been in London since the 19th century and are still common in south and east London, in many parts of Essex and in places abroad, particularly Australia where there are significant expatriate communities.

The main dish sold is pie and mash — a minced beef and cold water pastry pie and mashed potato. It is common for the mashed potato to be spread around one side of the plate and for a type of parsley sauce to be present. This is commonly called eel liquor sauce or liquor (although it is non-alcoholic) because it is traditionally made using the water kept from the preparation of the stewed eels. The sauce traditionally has a green colour, which is not from food colouring, but from the parsley. Traditionally pie and mash shops have white tile walls, with marble floors, tables and work tops, which are easy to clean and give a Victorian appearance.

The Manze Pie & Mash shop on Walthamstow High Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 is a good example, having all of the original fittings, from the narrow wooden bench seats to a highly polished brass till.