Brighton is renowned for its diverse food scene; if there’s a cuisine you fancy one night, you’ll more than likely able to find it in our little seaside town. Got a hankering for Taiwanese steamed buns? The Pond on Gloucester Road has you sorted. How about some Japanese BBQ? You have to try Bincho Yakitori on Preston Street. I’ve heard Le Baobab Cuisine on Trafalgar Street sells good Senegalese food. However, some Brighton residents argue that the degree of the authenticity of the cuisine in some restaurants can be questionable.
I was born and raised in the London Borough of Hounslow, a town renowned for many things. David Attenborough was born there, Vincent Van Gogh lived there for a short while and Mo Farah went to the school just down the road from me. However, what makes me proud to be from my hometown is its cultural diversity. 45% of people in Hounslow were born outside the UK, and as you walk down the high street, this becomes very obvious. The smells, sights and sounds take you on a worldwide tour as you wander past a wide array of ethnic supermarkets and restaurants pumping out Bollywood tunes, Afrobeat’s and the scent of spices.
However, on moving to Brighton two years ago, I was shocked to see how culturally different it was. The ethnic diversity of Brighton is surprisingly poor, 89% of Brightonians are white – a stark contrast to Hounslow’s 51% (many of which are from white non-British countries). But what shocked me the most was the impact this had on Brighton’s cuisine. The food back home is made for its native people to eat and it is priced accordingly.
A classic Maharashtrian dish, vada pav, is one of my favourites and is priced at just £1 in my favourite eatery, Shree Krishna Vada Pav, on Hounslow High Street. However, one pub in Brighton sold it to me for £10 (granted, the sourdough bun was lovely). Jamie Oliver has even recently brought it to the attention of the British public by including a rendition of a recipe for it on both his TV show ‘veg’ and the cookbook of the same name, rather painfully labelling it an ‘Indian Chip Butty’, much to the disdain of many Indian twitter members, one even claiming it caused her to scream “VADA PAV!” at the TV.
I spoke with Samantha Kumar, the vice president of the Brighton Asian society and Tamil society for Brighton, to get her view on the issue. It would seem she agreed with me as she confessed her disdain at the lack of authenticity of Brighton’s Asian food, admitting that: “getting hold of authentic food has proven to be a challenge in Brighton” going on to label the city as “culturally deprived”. And when she does visit the cities Asian restaurants, she finds the food to be “incredibly over-priced” and “suited to non-Asians”.
It would seem that Brighton’s restaurant entrepreneurs have sensed a trend of interest in new and exciting global flavours, and have sought to cash in on it, often at a high price tag. Kumar admits she finds it disappointing that the dishes she was teased for eating as a child are being sold back to her years later by the West, obviously when they realised there was a profit to be made in it.
There is an apparent desire to appear cultured by consuming cultural products, so the demand is now there for the unfamiliar. People want to try things like mochi, a sweet Japanese treat, and tteokbokki, a Korean spicy rice cake (find them, they’re insanely good), it’s the aspect of novelty it provides, and people are willing to throw money at it.
But, often the renditions of dishes fall short of representing the culture they seek to pay homage to, leaving the ethnic minorities in Brighton disappointed and without food that really reminds them of home (and without breaking the bank). I would argue that Brighton needs more restaurants that provide authentic cultural food, at authentic prices. Or else, Kumar and friends are going to have to carry on bringing food back from the cultural hubs they hail from.
For more insight into the Brighton food scene, check out my Instagram @porkbellyandtofu