First published at Flesh is Grass on 9th September 2009
This post is for My Favourite Shop. (Yes, me again – Barkingside’s most famous shopper and consumer of high street services.)
Food shops tend to change my life more than I expect. When I moved to Barkingside with no particular enthusiasm in 2004, the kosher food I found on sale here allowed me to finally commit to a vegan diet. Strictly observant Jews isolate dairy from meat, so Jewish food manufacturers put a lot of creativity into the so-called ‘parev’ foods which are neither, and therefore can be eaten with either. The kosher shops and supermarket sections of Barkingside brought about this positive change for me.
So it has been with Veena’s. Some time ago I attracted the attention of Barkingside 21 by complaining that the entire High Street would soon be edible. Veena’s is exempt from this complaint; it is simply excellent and I’m delighted it’s here.
Veena’s opened on July 2nd 2009 in our former Woolworths. Its large glossy sign is burgundy with a yellow ‘Veena’s’ in a stylish font. When I first saw it, I thought to myself “Barkingside is getting an enormous Sri Lankan supermarket. Now I can eat”.
But although owner Brahmma Raj is Sri Lankan, it wouldn’t be accurate to call Veena’s just a Sri Lankan supermarket, or even just a South Asian supermarket. Turkish, British, Italian, Thai, Chinese, African and other regions are represented on the shelves – there’s even a dinky Jewish section. As one of the assistants on checkout (perhaps Brahmma Raj himself – he had a certain proprietorial air) told me, they aim to have everything under one roof. This is pretty much the actuality – at least with the things I want to buy – and Veenas has taken a big share of my food money from Sainsbury’s and Somerfield. The simple fact is, I tend to shop on foot at the end of my working day, and Veena’s sells food and ingredients I want but haven’t been able to get elsewhere in Barkingside.
As soon as I saw Veena’s I decided to get out my New Internationalist ‘Vegetarian Main Dishes From Around the World‘ cookbook which had been lying dormant on the shelf because I couldn’t get the ingredients. Now Veena’s is here I can finally use it, so I’m going through taking every tenth recipe in turn. The first meal was maharagwe, an East African dish requiring rosecoco beans. I found them at Veena’s along with every other bean I have ever heard of, tinned and dried.
There was a choice of 5 or 6 coconut milks (although none were low fat – coconut fat is saturated so you have to watch out). Today I decided to skip aprapansa, the Ghanaian palm nut stew, in favour of yemesirkik, an Ethiopian lentil stew, but I feel confident I could have found palm butter. Veena’s didn’t have berbere paste for the yemesirkik, but there was a choice of 4 other chilli pastes. We ate it tonight with chapatis I made out of Veena’s own-brand chapati flour and it was good.
I have a few days before labra (spicy mixed vegetables from Bangladesh) on page 40 but I had it in mind when I last shopped there. Yes, they had panch phoron (5 mixed spices – fennel, fenugreek, onion seed, cumin and bayleaf) and all of its individual ingredients, separately.
On page 70, we have tamarind dal. Well, you can get dry tamarind, wet tamarind, sweet tamarind, salt tamarind, black tamarind. Cadju (cashew) curry, a dish from Sri Lanka, is on page 90. Veena’s sells lemon grass in jars and cashew nuts in volumes from the packet to the sack.
On special, resisted with difficulty, a platter of small sweet pastries made with vegetable ghee.
From a well-being point of view and from an excitement point of view, I feel extremely fortunate to live close to Veena’s. There’s so much there. For example, I put black sesame seeds and white poppy seeds in my bread these days. I’d prefer to see a better mix of shops here than we currently have, but what with the marvellous Ushan’s (Sri Lankan fruit and vegetable shop), Yossi’s (kosher baker), La Boucherie (kosher butchers and grocers), Rossi’s (the ice cream, coffee and chocolate institution), not one but two beautifully-kept Polish delicatessens, the eel and pie shop, the couple of unpretentious, high quality coffee, cake and brunch places, BK’s which is distinctively Turkish, Onur’s kebabs, the excellent North London Chinese take-away chain Oriental Chef, and the (“More than a”) farm shop selling local horseradish and Havering honey, we should now think of Barkingside as a cosmopolitan food-lover’s mecca.
Yes, there is meat, fish, dairy and other animal products here, and these things should never be eaten. Whenever I give money to vendors who trade in these things, I compromise something. And certainly, Sainsbury’s is far superior to anywhere else here for good booze, vegan dairy alternatives (although still poor), fair trade produce, organic produce, and environmentally-conscious produce – this is why they’ll continue to get my custom. But Barkingside has become a modern cosmopolitan food-lover’s mecca and Veena’s is central to this happy development.
(And not for the first time I ask myself, who wouldn’t live here?)