Towards one end of the northern line exists a hidden gem of a neighborhood that could easily be mistaken for anywhere but North London, let alone the whole of the UK. The growing Middle Eastern community that has settled there over the past few decades boasts several thriving restaurants and small shops. Many restaurants have been nominated for the prestigious British Kebab Awards.
There are also two large supermarkets where locals can stock up on continental items that are hard to find in traditional stores and much cheaper than buying them on the internet. You can also find Iranian newspapers stocked in almost every Persian store in Ballards Lane – no wonder Finchley Central has been nicknamed ‘Little Tehran’, a booming neighborhood that perfectly describes the Iranian community that thrives there.
As well as having a number of Iranian and Turkish restaurants, bakeries and money changers located on a busy road, Ballards Lane has to be one of the friendliest areas in North London, thanks to the hospitality of the Iranian people. Every shopkeeper and worker you meet greets you with a smile and a handshake, they have time to stop and talk to you – no matter how busy the day is.
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Over the past 10 years, Ballards Lane has gradually transformed into a Middle Eastern paradise. Rojab ‘Shahabi’ Shahabi, the owner of Persian bakery Tavazo, knows full well why this corner of north London is a home for the Iranian community. “When I first opened eight years ago I was the only one, now another store opened just two weeks ago. I’m happy if two more open, the more there are, the better for everyone,” Shahabi told MyLondon.
He added: “Here it reminds me of Iran – when we had our New Year in March there were three different queues in Tavazo, people do that in Tehran and we had loud music. ” The 65-year-old grew up in Tehran, the capital of Iran, before moving to the UK in 1973 for his studies. However, he always knew he wanted to dabble in the food business and hasn’t looked back since.
Tavazo has been serving the Iranian community for eight years, it sells the best nuts, delicious Iranian pastries, sour fruit pickles that go perfectly with yogurt, as well as Iranian rice sachets and sachets, saffron sweets crystallized and Barbari (Iranian flatbread) which is baked right in front of you. Of course, that’s just to name a few – you really have to see it for yourself, we guarantee you won’t leave empty-handed.
Shahabi’s shop is open seven days a week, 365 days a year and is even open on Christmas Day and public holidays. It opens at 8am and closes at 11pm – which for a bakery is pretty decent. Although he admits that he is getting older and wants to do more in life than work, it is a joy for Shahabi to be in his store: “II love being with people and I love talking with them no matter if it’s busy or not. I love being involved with customers.”
Although his wife, children and a grandchild live here in London, Shahabi returns to Iran four to five times a year on business. There, he buys only the best quality items before re-importing them for his customers. While its bread, which is made in front of its customers, is the main attraction of the bakery. Its friendly chefs prepare around 700-800 pieces of Barbari, Sangak and Naan on weekends alone, while a client in Soho places 200 orders a week.
Shahabi said, “We bake every day, including weekends. Our pastries and bread are very popular among Iranians and non-Iranians. About 70% of our customers are Iranians, 40% are non-Iranians, they could be Asian, Eastern European Jew, Arab or non-Iranian, it’s very popular with everyone.”
A recent article estimates there are over 40,000 Iranians living in North London – although Shahabi thinks it could be much higher at 70,000. Another interesting take on why so many Iranians live in north London, Shahabi said: “Over the past eight years, the Iranian community has grown. People who live in the north of Tehran are rich and have very expensive houses because they are next to the mountains. So when they come to London, they think North London is the same.”
Of course, that’s just one man’s point of view, but it kind of adds to the intrigue behind Little Tehran.
Have you ever visited Little Tehran? Let us know in the comments section here.
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