There’s a place I go to called Green Street. In the heart of Forest Gate (that’s E7), just down the road from the old West Ham ground at Upton Park, and I’ve been going there ever since I was a little girl. Growing up in Harlow in the 70s and 80s, we didn’t have the luxury of big supermarkets stocking everything we needed from chillies and coriander to black lentils or cumin seeds. So there was a fortnightly trip to Green Street to stock up on all our Asian grocery essentials. And if you need dozens of types of lentil or any spice under the sun, it’s still the place to go.
These days I can get all my Indian cooking essentials at the Asian and Oriental supermarket in Harlow (it’s called M18, off Edinburgh Way, tell Shahid I sent you!) but I still love a trip down to Green Street when I need something special. These photos are from Bharat Stores, which is my first stop for any trip to Green Street.
If you’ve never been down there and you have any love of Asian food, culture or fashion, you won’t be disappointed. Another added bonus of visiting from May through July are the stacks of boxed mangoes which can be bought in the greengrocers or just being sold by some guy on the pavement. There’s something about the mango-selling guys, they really are the Del Boys of the street. Lots of banter, lots of chat about how their mangoes are better than the other guy across the road and lots of offers which always tempt me to buy 2 boxes when I really only wanted 1!
But it’s so worth it. The flavour and melting texture of the Kesar, Chausa, Honey and – the king of all mangoes – the Alphonso, are positively ambrosial. If you’ve only ever tasted a supermarket, South-American mango, you’ll be amazed at how different the two fruits are. They are smaller and sweeter and not at all stringy or fibrous inside. But watch out for the juice! It’s been said that the best place to eat a mango is in the sea or in the bath, but careful use of a napkin can be just as effective.
So a few hours browsing the jewellery, beautiful sarees and shalwar kameez (just looking!) and more importantly cookware and vegetables is always a pleasure and never a chore. Do you have any top tips for Asian groceries? Where to buy them? How to use specialist ingredients in your dishes? Can you find fresh turmeric for sale somewhere near you? If you do, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me on Facebook (Saira Hamilton Chef), Twitter (Saira Hamilton) or by leaving a comment below.
Sometimes you have to stop talking and just get on with it. Silence the internal editor that tells you to wait until your website is finished and you have the perfectly crafted blog post and a photo in all its filtered glory and with no stray shadows or double chins lurking. So from now on dear reader, you are going to get a regular blog from me, hosted on my imperfect website. I will share with you great recipes, tips and advice on cooking for the season and special occasions and news on what I’m up to and where I’ve been cooking lately.
So first, an update. I have wanted to write and publish a cookbook ever since my MasterChef experience, and I wrote and independently published 3 cookbooks called Kitchen Favourites with Saira: Chilli, Ginger and Garlic in Spring 2016 – which are all still available to buy on Amazon . And now I am delighted to say I have also secured a publisher for a brand new cookbook, different to anything else currently available, on authentic Bangladeshi home-cooking. The book will contain 100 fabulous recipes accompanied by beautiful photographs showcasing the wonderful cuisine that reflects the heritage of my Bengali family. I can’t wait to share it with you. Publication is planned for Spring 2018, so we have a little while to wait!
I had the pleasure of being asked to participate in one of Hari Ghotra’s networking events #HariHosts at the Shard where I was on a great panel of women sharing knowledge about publishing a cookbook. Hari, who runs the UK’s top Indian food website, organises several of these events and had gathered a great panel together. Alongside Suzy Pelta (author of Miracle Mug Cakes and other cheat’s bakes: Ryland, Peters & Small), Xa Shaw Stewart (senior editor at Bloomsbury) and Kirsten Gilmore (chef/patron Mountain Café, Aviemore), the panel was joined by lots of enthusiastic foodies and bloggers all thinking of writing their own cookbooks. It was a wonderful evening, full of positive energy and enthusiasm and it was a privilege to be there. My first time up the Shard, but I hope not the last.
Another exciting announcement to make is a new partnership I have embarked upon with one of my MasterChef buddies Juanita Hennessey, who was a finalist in MasterChef 2016, famous for her strawberry patch dessert. She and I bonded instantly over rum cocktails and Rick Astley at CarFest for BBC’s Children in Need (it’s a long story!) and have been working on a few projects since then. I don’t want to say too much yet but we have already appeared at a few food festivals with our #HamandHen double act and there will be more to come! Come and watch us in action soon – it’s a hoot!
Here we are pictured with Suzy Pelta (ITV1’s Lorraine‘s Cake Club winner) and Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed (winner of MasterChefUK 2017) at a recent Foodies Festival where we had an absolute ball cooking aloo paratha and orange and polenta cake for a packed out crowd in the Stoves Chef’s theatre.
So in these interesting and sometimes turbulent times we live in, I am really looking forward to sharing my cooking adventures with you. So please share and subscribe and I’ll see you soon.