We've got four more years to enjoy the culinary and cultural adventure which is the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, according to Southwark Council's Regeneration Timeline the South London landmark is marked for demolition in 2014.
Built in 1965 it was the first covered shopping centre in Europe, the crowning glory of a development which the London County Council's planners had envisaged as a 'New Sight of London'. They achieved their aim, in a way, though few visit the gyratory and some 2km of subways to marvel at a multi-layered utopia of man and automobile.
Elephant and Castle is consistently voted one of London's greatest eye-sores with its big red bazaar taking a particular bashing. There's little denying that the regeneration project should benefit the area (and hopefully current residents) yet despite all its grimness, for me E&C holds a certain charm. The shopping centre is a living relic virtually unchanged in more than 40 years. Promenading its cracked marble corridors and basking in the faded glow of multicoloured signage and striplighting is Southwark's answer to cruising in a Chevy around Habana Vieja.
Whilst the structure and decor is caught in a twilight of beautiful decay, the centre's shop keepers represent a more modern face of London. There are numerous money transfer centres, Afro-Caribbean hair and beauty emporiums and more importantly some really interesting places to eat. Inside there's a popular Polish cafe, a curry house and a renowned Colombian cafe, shop and restaurant - 'El Bodeguita'.
Outside, in what can only be described as a moat surrounding the retail bastion, is a food court par excellence. The mixture of stands come to life on a sunny day with people eating on ajoining plastic tables, Nigerian, Jamaican and Thai are all represented. The star of the show though is Kaieteur Kitchen serving Guyanese food.
Guyana, a former British colony on the South American mainland is generally considered part of the Caribbean and shares a lot in common culturally with the English speaking islands. Like nearby Trinidad and Tobago there is a strong East Indian influence on the cuisine with over 40% of the country's population descendants of indentured labourers from the subcontinent. Indian breads such as rotis and curries feature heavily alongside dishes with African, European and more so than elsewhere in the West Indies, Amerindian roots.
Passing Kaieteur early one Saturday lunchtime with my stomach as empty as a Greek tax return, the sight of three ample women buzzing around a multitude of pots, frying, stirring and smiling was too inviting. There was no menu so I asked to try the most Guyanese dish... 'pepperpot!' was the unanimous response. Each West Indian island seems to have a dish they call pepperpot, I've already tried Antigua's earlier in my blog, but the Guyanese pepperpot is unique. Theirs is a brooding, dark, hp sauce like morass of all manner of pig and cow parts which tastes incredible.
The secret to pepperpot I was told is 'cassareep' an Amerindian ingredient which is a natural preservative made from cassava juice. The juice is boiled up with brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves to create a thick dark liquid which gives pepperpot its unique flavour and intense colour. In the days before refrigeration, cassareep was a vital addition to stews preserving them almost indefinitely, as long as the pepperpot was boiled well each day it would be safe to eat. Guyanese families tell tales of the same pepperpots lasting for years, with housewives taking and adding ingredients to a stew with an age old base, there's even tales of people inheriting pepperpots.
I was assured my pepperpot was just a couple of weeks old, the constant stewing and concentrating of flavours had broken it down into a thick, molasses like sauce of caramelised meat and spices, a beautiful mix up of oxtail, pigs trotter and chunks of stewing beef and pork. It was served with 'Cook up Rice', a favourite way of using up leftovers in Guyana apparently, which had a generous amount of pork and chicken. A fiery homemade hot sauce of scotch bonnet and mustard was the perfect condiment.
Whilst I ate, the dapper chap in the cap (pictured above) patted me on the back and said, 'It's food that makes you feel good isn't it?' it certainly is and pretty good value at £6.50 for my meal. Lets hope there's a place for Kaieteur Kitchen next to Wagamama's Elephant and Castle in a few year's time.