London: the first-ever cultural melting pot of the world, and its most enduring.

Immigrants have long trekked to London from India, the Middle East and Asia — from countries of heat and steam and aromatic markets — to the wet, the cold and the concrete of England’s capital city. 

They come to carve a different existence for themselves, to offer their children a new life: an English life. They subsequently introduce the ravenous Englishman to their rich, spicy kitchens… from which he rarely looks back. From the best falafel rolls in the city’s north-west to rich bowls of Vietnamese pho — not to mention balti curries, affectionately dubbed ‘England’s national dish’ — Londoners have navigated the spices, cooking techniques and tongue-twister names of their settled neighbours.

No, that’s not your stomach growling, it’s London calling. Answer her gastronomic siren song with our tour of the boroughs that offer the real deal.

Edgware Road | Middle Eastern

Emerge from Edgware Road tube station into a fug of wet street, smoking shisha and guttural yelling, and you’d be mistaken for thinking you’d stepped off a plane to Beirut, albeit during a peculiar cold snap.

This area in London’s north-west, near Marble Arch, is home to a vibrant Middle Eastern community. Lebanese restaurants and shisha cafes line both sides of the road. In true Arabic style, many remain open late into the night — a boon, and short black-cab ride away, when most London pubs call last pints at 11.45pm.

Maroush, is the area’s longest-running restaurant and its most upmarket. Ordering is simple: traditional cold mezzes, followed by kibbeh (lamb meatballs mixed with cracked wheat and onions), or a minced lamb kofte, plus there’s a deli next door for a take-home option as well.

North is Alfies Antique Market. For more than 30 years it has attracted serious collectors, interior designers and celebrities such as Kate Moss and Keira Knightley to its Aladdin’s cave of varied collectables. Find a Clarice Cliff tea set, a delicate beaded purse from an 18th-century wardrobe, rockabilly kitsch and Murano glass in this labyrinthine treasure trove.

Wander west and the brick façades give way to the white stucco frontages of Maida Vale. Canals wind through pretty much every part of London, but in the small pocket called Little Venice the locals have made them a way of life. Barges bob almost at street level and with London rental prices being what they are, a small, narrow houseboat starts to look very attractive — especially when it’s painted in pretty blue and white, and covered in verdant, overflowing flowerpots.

Shoreditch |Vietnamese

The outer north-eastern suburb of Stratford is Olympics turf, so you can expect the crowds to drift the short 10 kilometres west into Shoreditch for a proper London experience. The area was once the city’s industrial hub and factories, warehouses and high-rises still dominate the skyline. In the 1980s young artists moved into this rough area, sowing the seed for today’s gentrification. So much so, the borough’s newest reinvention is as London’s ‘tech city’: a hub of cutting-edge advertising agencies and young tech start-ups.

This mix of grit and glamour makes for some great street entertainment: dolled-up 1950s-esque pin-up girls dodging those only just crawling home from a big night out. Columbia Road Flower Market is a must — get there early on Sunday as the late-morning, hungover crowds can make it hard to stroll the narrow stretch.

Drop into the improbably placed Hackney City Farm next door, which houses actual farmyard animals including Shoreditch’s official mascot, a donkey. From here, stroll up Goldsmith’s Row over Regent’s Canal to Broadway Market, considered the quieter, infinitely cooler brother of Borough Market on the south bank of the River Thames, but where the French-style cured meats and saucisson are second to none.

Save some space for Kingsland Road —locals have affectionately dubbed the stretch between the Geffrye Museum and the overpass Pho Mile. The established Tay Do Restaurant and Song Que serve steaming bowls of the stuff rice-noodle-soup dreams are made of: aromatic with fresh herbs, rich with beef stock, sweet with charred ginger and heaped with gloriously silky, slippery noodles.

West End | Chinese

There is something supremely comforting about stumbling across a foreign city’s Chinatown — like finding a little slice of home. London’s is smack bang in the West End, running parallel to Shaftesbury Avenue and its stretch of theatre billboards advertising the seemingly never-ending run of Les Misérables.

Make sure you give the firefighters on the corner of Gerrard Place a wave before entering New World — here you’ll find some of the best yum cha in London. Aficionados will love the fact it’s one of the only restaurants serving dim sum in the traditional way: on trolleys with barely an English sentence spoken by the waitresses pushing them. And if you’re feeling brave, the chicken feet in black bean sauce is outstanding.

For a decidedly sexier, more after-dark experience, Yauatcha is where you’ll find the Soho elite. Here dumplings are elevated to an art form: think lobster with tobiko caviar; prawn, cuttlefish and zucchini; and blue swimmer crab shui mai.

If you’re in this part of London and you haven’t seen something on stage, you’re missing out. Get your fill of musicals at any of the West End crowd-pleasers: the Criterion, Apollo, Lyric and Queen’s. But for a more highbrow experience head to the not-for-profit Donmar, which has made a name for itself among London literati for its outstanding productions. Book now, or try your luck with the 20 standing positions that only go on sale once all the seats are sold.

Brick Lane | Indian

There are two halves to Brick Lane. Its north end is home to trendy nightclubs, bars, galleries and vintage clothing stores including the legendary Rokit, where hipsters can be found bemoaning the gentrification of East London. Its south, however, is Indian homeland: a cobblestone stretch marking the centre of London’s biggest Bangladeshi community in nearby Tower Hamlets.

For many years visitors were advised to give Brick Lane a wide berth and, while the touts remain almost as aggressive as any in South-East Asia, the chefs have been given a swift kick up the proverbial biryani. Try Aladin or the more modern Clifton.

A mere 15-minute walk south-west is Café Spice Namasté, a more upmarket version headed by master chef Cyrus Todiwala, who was awarded an OBE in the 2010 Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for his services to the hospitality industry. Tayyabs is also excellent, but try to book ahead as it does get busy.

The invisible line separating Little Bangladesh from the cool cats of Bethnal Green seems to be the Old Truman Brewery, which has a venerable history in supporting artists and designers. Sunday UpMarket established itself off Brick Lane eight years ago, and its stalls selling fashion, accessories, crafts, interior decorations and music, together with a veritable world tour of street food — think Ethiopian hand-roasted coffee, Spanish empanadas, Japanese savoury pancakes and Caribbean fried plantain sandwiches — make it a hotspot for locals.