From golden Ghanaian yam balls and waakye to delectable Scandinavian smørrebrød and decadent French chocolate liegéois, the sheer variety of culinary delights to tease the taste buds is one of the best things about living in Hackney.
Now travel writer and photographer Helena Smith has brought together a selection of some of the very best dishes in the Eat Hackney Cookbook, an imaginative collection of 30 mouth-watering recipes from restaurants, cafés, shops and community projects, reflecting the kaleidoscope of different cultures in the area.
“As a travel writer, I was always going off and photographing different foods from around the world, and then it struck me that I could do a world tour right here in Hackney,” she says. “It’s a real capsule of world cuisines.”
This is partly what inspired her to create the popular Eat Hackney blog two years ago, featuring recipes, portraits and stories on the best “local food from around the world” that the East End has to offer.
The Eat Hackney Cookbook is a natural extension of the blog and charity project, with all the proceeds going to the Hackney Migrant Centre and North London Action for the Homeless, where Helena works as a volunteer.
Recipes to get your teeth into include a warming Tuscan white bean, cabbage and bread soup from the E5 Bakehouse and a tasty saffron potato kookoo – a Persian dish similar to an omelette – provided by Soli Zardosht at Café OTO.
“I wanted to get a balance between media-savvy new ventures and older, established places that have a real connection to local communities,” Helena says, adding that the cookbook also serves as a handy listings guide to the best places to eat and drink in the area.
Though she’s reluctant to choose a favourite recipe from the cookbook, Helena highly recommends having a go at the irresistible Swedish cinnamon buns, that are not only delicious but lots of fun to make, and a hearty Moroccan pastilla – a type of chicken pie – made with almonds, fiery harissa chilli paste and a shot of orange blossom water thrown into the mix.
Illustrated with full colour photographs taken by Helena herself, the Eat Hackney Cookbook also contains features on how to run a supper club and the history of renowned London Cure smoked salmon.
There’s a lesson in the fine but often overlooked art of good cocktail-making in there too, courtesy of The Haggerston on Kingsland Road.
The Eat Hackney Cookbook (£5) is available to buy online at eathackney.com, in L’Epicerie, 56 Chatsworth Road, E5 and Unpackaged, 197 Richmond Road, E8 3NJ./ 30 September, 2013