Peckham Bazaar is a simple room on an unassuming residential corner, with plain chairs and tables and happy customers lit by candles. The kitchen is not so much open as actually inside the dining room, a thin grill space running along one inside wall.
Food was the main attraction but first, we wanted to meet one of London’s most intriguing chefs. As he stepped away from the kitchen and took a seat, we couldn’t help but notice the symmetry between his black and white apron, thoughtful eyes and salt-and-pepper hair and beard.
More comfortable crafting creative Balkan-inspired recipes than being the centre of attention, John Gionleka, like many artists, prefers his art to speak for him.
“Coming from a small country in the Balkans like Albania, England was the furthest place I could imagine going to. I was actually quite chuffed I came this far!” John said excitedly as he began to share his journey.
“When I came here, I decided that I wanted to experience London and not be intimidated by it. I decided to embrace this new and exciting culture,” John said.
“I had a relative who lived in a small village who once visited Athens,” he said. When she returned to the village, everyone was very excited and eager to hear about Athens. She told them, “You won’t believe it. It was so full of people and yet I didn’t know anyone!”
The culture shock of big cities and the feelings of anonymity they evoke means that while cities like London can challenge our sense of cultural identity, they present opportunities for interacting with other cultures.
Apart from a childhood encounter with an Ethiopian family living in Albania, John explained that he had not had any significant interaction with African culture up to that point. That minor encounter did little to prepare him for the intensity of London’s cultural cauldron.
“My first years of living in [South] London were memorable. I began working at a Greek/Cypriot facility which was predominantly used by West Africans and West Indians.”
“I soon found myself interacting with various communities; hanging out with Jamaicans, dancing to ska, dancehall and reggae and drinking Super Malt with Nigerians.”
“It felt quite overwhelming sometimes! London has a habit of attracting you and making you want to do different things with different cultures and communities,” he concluded.
Food was John’s point of reconnection with his Albanian heritage. He described how he found comfort in food as a means of asserting his identity. From that place of balance, Peckham Bazaar emerged.