As I’m not British I’m fascinated with certain UK traditions. This time around I went for the basics: pie ‘n’ mash at one of the oldest pie shops in London. M. Manze has been selling pies for the masses since 1891. That was the date the family opened a shop near Tower Bridge. My local Peckham shop “only” opened in 1927. There is only one other family – The Cooke family – that has a similar longevity. Funny enough a daughter of the Cooke family married a son of the Manze family and their grandson now runs the capital’s oldest pie and mash shop, M. Manze on Tower Bridge Road. Tadaaaa!!!! As you can see I’ve done my research.
I was really taken by the lovely tiles and the marbles table tops in the Peckham shop. Turns out that these are leftovers from the Victorian times, together with the very uncomfortable wooden benches. They reminded me a lot of church benches … good thing one doesn’t have to sit in it for too long. So, going further into my research: the first pies were filled with eel, as it was very common and cheap. That’s the reason this shop has Eel and Pie Shop on the facade. Eel soon got replaced with minced beef. But for quite some time the shops still had a stall outside where they were selling live eels for cooking at home. Urgh!! Even though the eel became less popular as a filling, the ‘liquor’ sauce offered with the pie ‘n’ mash was still made out of the eel stewing water, which was flavoured with parsley. Now … I doubt the current liquor is still made with eels, as they really are not favoured nowadays. What would you do with all the cooked eel?
I went in and ordered the vegetarian pie. You couldn’t hear me? Never mind. I ordered … one … of their pies. Fine. I ordered vegetarian, okay? Don’t lynch me. I had a look around the shop before ordering and had not much trust into the concept, so I went the safe route. When the plate arrived, it very much reminded me of a school dinner. Not at all appealing. The upper crust of the pie was strangely hard. The bottom … no, I cannot even call it pastry … was grey and rubbery. I could see that my neighbours had ordered beef pie and that it was bleeding gravy onto their plates. Google told me later that gravy was put into the pie so the meat can cook in the juice of it. My quourn meat pie wasn’t bleeding anything. It saved me from an ugly mix of white sauce with parsley (liquor) and gravy. Not a nice sight. The mash was traditionally scraped onto the side of the plate and looked onto a little pond of liquor. How poetic I am today!
Maybe I should try a poem:
liquor liquidness is still
mountains of dead spuds
the grey of bottom
I thee not want see
my mouth will come to know
the feel of all there is
I know … I will never make money with that ‘beauty’. Anyhow … the meal in itself didn’t just look like school dinner, but also tasted like it. I get it. The shop is frequented by a lot of older ladies and workman. I assume for most of them its a very cheap lunch option (£3.80 for one pie ‘n’ mash, but you can order more than one pie) and it may also remind them of the good old times. I have fond childhood memories of powdered noodle soup, so I will not mock other peoples preferences for such things. But this is one British tradition I don’t need to repeat.