The Indian supermarket I use in Tooting is always busy, nearly every till has a person on it, and one at the end to pack for you. It’s on a quieter road away from the main high street which is never not full of traffic. I’ve been stuck in a jam there late at night, mid-afternoon and very early morning. That’s it’s nature as one of the main ways to get in and out of south west London I suppose. Perhaps it’s calmer now, the days quieter as we wait for the future.
The shop is a slightly scruffy place, and I always struggle a little to find the front door. There are always piles of cardboard boxes and metal crates outside it and trolleys that look as if they’ve been rescued from the scrapyard. The blue paint is peeling off the frame in parts and there are worn stickers on the scratched glass saying ‘entrance’ and ‘use other door’. A rather confusing set of messages.
Inside, under the fizzing strip lights that give everything a rather odd pinkish-green tinge and on the worn, pale, scuffed floor trodden by thousands of feet over the years there are sacks of rice piled high and totemic columns of palm sugar wrapped in hessian and tied with pink rope. Among the jars of pickles and spices are the occasional incongruous bottles of Heinz ketchup or packets of Mcvitie’s Digestives. The butcher’s counter sits quietly at the back in an even colder light, more parts of animals than you’re likely to see in the sanitised supermarkets. There is everything here, a mix of brands from east and west, giving a feeling of neither here nor there, almost like shopping on holiday but not quite.
The main excitement for me, though, lies in the fresh fruit and vegetable section. There are many types, shapes and sizes of aubergine, fresh green peppercorns still on a vine, knobbly cucumber-type things, bushes of herbs bursting out of boxes, curry leaves in a polystyrene box balanced on the edge of a container full of vicious looking chillies and ginger as big as your hand. It’s here I get my phone out every few minutes to look up what things are and how to use them before deciding whether or not to buy them. More often than not things go in the basket for the sheer pleasure of just having a new and beautiful ingredient to use.
Plenty of spices go in my basket too. And bags full of large cinnamon quills, little pots of saffron and paper-wrapped packets of mini popadoms, brightly lettered in that peculiar way of Indian packaging.
The last time I went, a while ago now it seems as we stay in the house for 23 hours a day, I picked up a bundle of reeds labeled ‘green tea’. Long strands of lemongrass, dried and tied in a bundle. And I’ve only just got round to using them. Watching them fade in the spring sunlight by the kitchen window from their already pale green to a pale straw was too much.
The flavour was still there, thankfully. Still strong and refreshing. And while lemongrass is something I normally associate with South east Asian cooking and British Airways towelettes, the tea is calming and perky. I’m worried that having waited until we shouldn’t be leaving the house for anything but strict essentials I’m going to have to eke out my supply or try and find a way of stocking up. Especially as at the moment I could really do with lemongrass’ ayurvedic cooling energy and its supposed ability to relieve anxiety and lower blood pressure. Such is life. I don’t think it would be particularly useful to get stressed about not being able to get hold of something to reduce stress now, would it?