JJ Town: A Portrait Of Golders Green

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 21 months ago
JJ Town: A Portrait Of Golders Green

The alliterative two letter acronym associated with Golders Green is of course G.G. But there's a new nickname conquering the area's reputation: JJ. These double J's don't stand for a sci-fi director with a penchant for lens flare, nor are they a reference to an obscure 90's professional wrestler. No, these J's denote the two communities that dominate Golders Green: the longstanding Jewish one, and a fast-growing Japanese one.

This phenomenon originates in America, more specifically New York. The two communities across the pond are now somewhat intertwined; the Urban Dictionary term of a person of mixed Japanese and Jewish heritage is Jewpanese. To get to the portmanteau stage, it's clear the links between the communities are strong.

We headed to Golders Green, to see whether this promised (JJ) land was real.

Walking down the streets, it's clear the predominant community in Golders Green is still the Jewish community. Yarmulkes (or kippas, depending on your lexical preference) adorn many male heads. Women wear long black skirts to protect their modesty. Glatt (strict) kosher restaurant Met Su Yan is a place where the Jewish community feels at home.

The name Met Su Yan is a pun: it looks and sounds Chinese, but is actually a phonetic Hebrew translation for excellent. Just before they're about to close up after lunch, there's only one table still occupied, a group of Orthodox Jews with beards that make hipsters weep. The restaurant's manager Aaron tells us this is pretty normal, the vast majority of Met Su Yan's customers are Jewish, looking for kosher certified Oriental food.

A few doors down is Sushi Haven, another kosher Oriental restaurant. Unlike the more formal Met Su Yan, this operates mainly as a takeaway business where the food sits waiting on shelved fridges for customers in a hurry. We chatted to manager Daniel. When he finds out what we're interested in, he jubilantly exalts: 'Jews love sushi!'

Sushi Haven's clientele is similar to Met Su Yan's; Orthodox Jews, looking for kosher food. There's one major difference between the two though. While Daniel is a religious Jew, the rest of the staff we see are all Asian. They all live in the local area. Daniel doesn't see JJ Town as anything of note, saying 'London's Asian community is everywhere.'

Ramen upon ramen, upon ramen, upon ramen.

The first major sign that there's more to Golders Green than the traditional Jewish community comes in the form of Oriental supermarket chain Seoul Plaza. There's not one, but two of them on Golders Green Road, a paltry five minutes walk apart. A look inside shows that there isn't the same sushi madness that makes the Jewish community go wild.

Sure there's seaweed floating about on these shelves, but Seoul Plaza has a much wider selection of Oriental cuisine.The endless rows of dried ramen shown above are only a small percentage of how much there actually is. Walking around the store, there's an audible array of languages from the Far East.

Seoul Plaza, a reminder that the name JJ Town is an oversimplification.

It's worth noting that the term JJ Town is a massive oversimplification. The name Seoul Plaza gives that away — Seoul is the capital of South Korea — and the store is flushed with food that caters to tastes from across East Asia. It does these diverse cultures and communities a disservice to be thrown in to one generalised catch-all. Then again, EAJ (East Asian and Jewish) Town, is nowhere near as catchy.

Yuni who works at Seoul Plaza, talks about the large growing East Asian communities across north west London. 'I live locally and so does everyone else who works here. Most people I know live around places like this: Golders Green, Hendon, Brent Cross and there are a lot of young students live in Swiss Cottage.'

The areas she lists line-up almost perfectly with Jewish north London. Sure, that community stretches further over the city, but these are some of the areas with the highest concentration of Jews. So are these communities drawn to each other?

Damoa minus the camera shy Chris (who literally ran away).

No-one we've spoken to so far has outwardly said it, but it's pretty clear there's little more than surface niceties exchanged between the communities. It's as if these two massive communities with a reasonable amount in common — well, at least sushi — politely live side by side, each indifferent to the other.

We do, however, come to a place where that's not the case. Asian-run sushi cafe Damoa might be empty when we step inside, but the cashier Chris assures us that it's popular with people from all backgrounds. 'Asian, British, Middle Eastern, Eastern Europeans, they all like it here.' It seems the nationalities of their customers are as numerous as the coloured lights on a tree in the centre of the shop. 'Young Jewish people come here, students. They get bubble tea. Everyone loves bubble tea.'

It's not just bubble tea that these two communities have in common. They both have an overwhelming disinterest in a classic British pub, with only two serving the entire area.

The Gate is rather cramped, hidden away on the high street. Chatting to the barmaid Mary, she tells us there just isn't much need for pubs in Golders Green. 'The Jewish community don't really drink much.'

We pressed about whether there were many East Asian regulars either, but Mary said it was rare. She herself was friendly but the pub isn't exactly welcoming from the outside, and mainly caters to a group of very dedicated regulars.

The shut Japan Homes.

Opposite Golders Green Station, there's a Japanese real estate agents. We approach feeling that these real estate agents are the perfect people to confirm whether JJ Town really exists, but there's a hitch. The door's shut. A sign in the window says they've closed and merged with their other branch in Swiss Cottage.

Perhaps this a sign that JJ Town is over, but we don't think so. It just never existed at all. Golders Green is home to a wider array of communities than that name will ever allow for.

Read more: Where to eat and drink in Golders Green.

Last Updated 04 April 2017