HOLE-Y LAND BRICK LANE BEIGELS

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - CUL­TURE JONATHAN GOLD­BERG

AS A Jew liv­ing in north-west Lon­don, I love spend­ing time in the city’s cre­ative epi­cen­tre, which, for years, has been lo­cated over in the East End. The area is awash with the lat­est fash­ion trends worn by hip­sters sport­ing the bushi­est beards and skin­ni­est of jeans. It’s been that way since cheap rents en­ticed a large artist com­mu­nity to colonise large stu­dio space.

Th­ese days, af­ford­able liv­ing is be­ing squeezed out, but the area hasn’t lost its cool fac­tor. De­signer cock­tail bars pro­lif­er­ate and pop-ups can be seen on ev­ery street cor­ner preparing in­no­va­tive food fu­sions. Yet, in­cred­i­bly, two com­pet­ing beigel bak­eries in Brick Lane — “beigel” be­ing the way it’s still spelt in Brick Lane — have been in ex­is­tence for a com­bined to­tal of 148 years, sell­ing the same prod­uct in a sim­i­lar, stripped-back en­vi­ron­ment.

Beigel Bake, the bet­ter known of the two, has an iconic sta­tus. Hun­gry cus­tomers ar­rive safe in the knowl­edge that they will re­ceive a beigel so fresh it will in­vari­ably be passed across the counter still warm.

I’mapho­tog­ra­pherand­de­cided to record a typ­i­cal day there, tak­ing one im­age to rep­re­sent each of the 24 hours of the day that Beigel Bake stays open. I un­der­took this project with four friends for an ex­hi­bi­tion.

The lo­ca­tion was cho­sen be­cause no place bet­ter shows off the rich di­ver­sity of life in the me­trop­o­lis to­day. Des­ti­tute junkies rub shoul­ders with city gents on a Tues­day morn­ing, Ital­ian tourists min­gle with north­ern hen par­ties on a Satur­day. Sun­days are for cy­clists and shop­pers laden with flow­ers from the lo­cal flower mar­ket. And any night of the week, cab­bies pop in for a so­cial and a cup of tea, as well as se­cu­rity guards at the dead of nigh­tand­paramedic­swhen­theyfind time. All are served equally by (usu­ally) women treat­ing each cus­tomer as equal.

One of the first por­traits I took was a mother in a shiny elec­tronic wheel­chair sand­wiched be­tween a dot­ing son and daugh­ter. They were clutch­ing brown pa­per bags of greasy salt beef beigels, the shop’s sig­na­ture fill­ing. Al­though the fam­ily had driven from Ley­ton­stone, she re­counted fondly how her par­ents had led her to the same shop reg­u­larly when they lived nearby, and that their par­ents had done the same be­fore them.

The busi­ness is owned and man­aged by two gen­er­a­tions of fam­ily. Broth­ers Asher and Sammy Cohen started af­ter work­ing for an­other brother next door, even­tu­ally branch­ing out in 1974. When the broth­ers aren’t putting in a shift, one of two sons can be seen over­see­ing the sale and pro­duc­tion of the 7,000 beigels that are pro­duced in­house ev­ery day.

Nathan, 28, is one of the sons in­volved in the day-to-day op­er­a­tion: “It used to be a big Jewish area, though not any more. Though our fam­ily isn’t re­li­gious, we think it’s im­por­tant to con­tinue the busi­ness for the sake of tra­di­tion, as we wouldn’t want the cul­tural as­pect to die out.” And the se­cret of their suc­cess? “It’s sim­ply the qual­ity over price ra­tio”. At 25p for a plain bagel, and un­der £4 with a gi­ant slab of meat, it’s hard to ar­gue.

In Lon­don, it’s rare that tan­gi­ble as­pects of Jewish life are revered in the main­stream. But, then, where else can you be fed in an institution that never closes? The ex­hi­bi­tion is at The Can­vas, 42 Han­bury St, Lon­don, E1

Tasty: Some of Gold­berg’s sub­jects for his unique project, out­side the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane

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