Yards of eels

Regula Ysewijn, aka Miss Foodwise, pays a visit to Mick’s Eel Supply, the last remaining live eel and jellied eel merchant at Billingsgate Market.

There are only a small number of pie and mash shops left in London, but they remain a big part of the communities that surround them. Although jellied eels – nuggets of eel set in gelatin – used to be prepared on the premises, now they are often bought ready jellied at the last remaining live eel and jellied eel merchant at Billingsgate Market.

Mick’s Eel Supply has had a pitch at the market for generations and continues to sell to pie and mash shops and restaurants alike. The live eels are kept in eel drawers supplied with a stream of fresh water. When the drawers are opened for me, it strikes me how beautiful the eels’ leather-like skin is and how elegantly they move.

The drawers, sometimes referred to as eel yards, used to be in the back of most pie and mash shops up until the mid-1990s, but I’m not sure how many remain now. Eels have become expensive, taking them away from the poor and on to the fine dining table. Not so long ago there used to be jellied eel stalls serving eels and other seafood to hungry punters outside many London pubs.

The last of them, Tubby Isaac, established in 1919, only ceased trading in 2013. He left behind a great number of fans of all ages who still search for the stall on Petticoat Lane and bump into people who remember stories of Jellied Eel Jack, who worked there for 40 years.

Eels at Billingsgate half collage

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