The Culinary Tube Map series is a fun and light-hearted look at what’s good to eat (and often drink) around London’s tube stations, based on a one-day amble around the area. It is not a comprehensive guide to every restaurant/bar/café, nor is it a detailed demographic description. It’s just good clean fun albeit with very sticky fingers.
We’ll admit that Elephant and Castle probably isn’t a destination for the majority of Londoners, who perhaps visit either because they’ve fallen asleep on the Northern Line, or they’re changing to the Bakerloo. Despite appearances however, it hides a few culinary riches, so we decided to explore them for the next stop on our Culinary Tube Map.
The area is home to many Colombian and Ecuadorian people, and this is particularly evident near the roundabout. Behind the infamous shopping centre and under the railway arches you’ll find a row of shops and restaurants selling South American food. Many of the voices you’ll hear on the street in this area speak Spanish and Portuguese, as do the shopkeepers, and we’re greeted several times with a smiling 'bueno!'.
Probably the most famous South American sight around these parts is La Bodeguita, a vast restaurant decorated with many flags and glitter balls hanging from the ceiling. As far as we can tell it’s known for its vast plates of meat, carbs and avocado known as bandeja paisa, but although we like a big feed as much as the next person we decided to skip this Parthenon to protein with the aim of seeking out some smaller snacks.
Along the backstreets here there are many cafes, shops where spangly lycra jumpsuits are stretched onto mannequins, and a lot of very upbeat Latin American music that somehow gets into bones and makes limbs move of their own accord. That’s our excuse anyway. After a good mooch we settle on La Chatica, a café with a shop at the back selling South American foodstuffs. There are various imported biscuits, sweets and cakes; jars of dulce de leche; sticks of orange guava paste; enriched dough breads which look like Jewish challah; tins of beans and numerous products made from corn and maize.
In the fresh foods section they sell their own cheese, which we think may be like a queso fresco or queso blanco — the piece we buy is a soft, fresh cow’s milk cheese, creamy and light. It’s slightly richer than a mozzarella and soon we’re slicing it onto everything. It’s also excellent with that aforementioned guava paste, like a South American version of cheese and pineapple on sticks. There are empanadas, Colombian cheese filled breads called pan de bono and sanchocho de cola, a meat and corn soup.
We settle in with a couple of Club Colombia beers and contemplate ordering one of two unfamiliar dome shaped snacks, one filled with beef, the other chicken. We decide on the beef. We’re served the chicken. We try to find out what exactly what it is that we're eating, and at first think it may have been a coxinha de galinha, a Brazilian snack which is a teardrop shaped piece of dough, stuffed with spiced rice and meat. Then we thought it might be a rellena. We're still none the wiser. The spicing inside is good, but it’s incredibly heavy and a tad dry, sadly typical of the dense, stodgy foods we associate with South American countries. Does anyone know where we might find a good one? Or indeed what it is?