LocationBillet Wharf, High Street
Leigh-on-Sea United Kingdom
At about eleven a.m., large men who know their way around a refrigerator full of offbeat seafood start drifting over to the Osborne Bros café by the Crooked Billet pub in Leigh-on-Sea, a small town in Essex. It’s off of Cockle Shed Row, but still shed shaped. The actual sheds are takeaway only, but this café shares picnic tables with the pub, so your pal can get the beers while you order through the hatch: a scoop of cockles, six smoked sprats (little oily fishes), a few whelks and winkles (sea snails), a buttered bread roll, a half pint of jellied eels.
The men arrange themselves and their food on the benches; they slosh on malt vinegar and shake the white pepper, and then they take one ritualistic look at the plate of food they know so well before diving in. This is the calm before the storm. Soon, hundreds of people will form eel-like lines. I will order a buttered white roll, tip my handsomely vinegared cockles into the bread, and walk toward the grizzly beach, eating my bivalve mollusks like a hamburger.
Laura Goodman is a writer living in London. She wrote about Leigh-on-Sea’s cockle sheds for The Seashore Issue.