Desperate for some za’atar or kaffir lime leaves? Cult Saltaire chef and baker Jez Belston takes Joan Ransley on an epicurean tour of his favourite Bradford food shops.
Most of us buy our day-to-day food from supermarkets. That’s usually one big weekly shop and a smaller top-up shop for items we run out of midweek. But there is a growing group of curious, ambitious home cooks inspired by chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi who need to shop further afield to find ingredients to cook dishes from the Middle and Far East, Eastern Europe and Asian cuisines.
But where do you go to buy those unusual ingredients, in the quantities you need to create exciting dishes for a family meal or a big event such as a street party or barbecue without breaking the bank and spending ages scouring the shelves of supermarkets?
I asked experienced chef and baker Jez Belston, who runs the cult Edward Street Bakery in Saltaire, to take me to his favourite Bradford food shops to find everything from bags of za’atar to kaffir lime leaves. Jez has an eye for unique and unusual “foodie” ingredients at a good price.
All the shops are located within 15-minute drive of each other with parking close by.
Euro Supermarket, 240-246 Manningham Lane, BD8 7BZ
The Euro Supermarket is easy to find on busy Manningham Lane. It stocks a wonderful selection of Polish ingredients. Jez uses lots of their ingredients and picked out the most useful for home cooks.
“The Euro Supermarket is great for bakers. I buy speciality flours such as white rye for my sourdough, buckwheat, spelt, rice and potato flour here as well as other ingredients used in our popular cakes and breads.”
The prices are keen. Most flour is about 50p cheaper per kilogram compared with supermarket prices. Some varieties are even cheaper.
There are bags of interesting grains such as hulled barley, useful for making hearty salads; barley flakes for muesli and granola; and roasted buckwheat which makes a great porridge.
I notice a wonderful display of intricately shaped pasta usually only seen in the best delicatessens. Again, prices are competitive.
We tour the shop, looking carefully at the treasures to be found. We both spot a large bag of poppy seeds.
“I make a traditional Polish bread called makowiec which has a sweet poppy seed, honey and dried fruit filling, and rolled up like a roulade. It is one of my best sellers,” Jez tells me.
Bakers would also love the plum and raspberry fruit pastes which Jez advises using for cake fillings and toppings. The fruit cordials, which include rosehip, cherry and blackcurrant, are excellent for summer drinks and cocktail mixes.
Polish food is renowned for its tasty pickles and preserves. We see shelves lined with jars of vibrant coloured pickled vegetables such as peppers, patty pan squash and red cabbage as well as gherkins, mushrooms and sauerkraut.
Jez gives me the first in a series of “cook’s tips”. “You can make the best coleslaw ever by draining a jar of finely shredded pickled cabbage and carrot and simply adding a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise.”
Next along the shelves are the glorious Polish jams and preserves. These include sea buckthorn, quince, blueberry and elderberry and they are beautifully packaged. This is also a great place to stock up on creamed horseradish and every kind of mustard.
Jez points out another interesting item. “This is beetroot concentrate which is added to borscht, a beautifully coloured and delicious traditional beetroot soup eaten in Eastern European cuisines. I use also it to flavour and colour my popular beetroot cake. Talking of soups – the mushroom stock cubes here are brilliant for soups, pasta sauces and stews.”
The dairy section is worth a browse. I spotted cartons of kefir, a popular fermented milk, and twaróg, a Polish curd cheese which is a very good for making spanakopita (Greek spinach and cheese filo pastry pie). Polish salami and charcuterie are good value here.
Sing-Kee Oriental Supermarket, 35-39 North Parade, BD1 3JH
This amazing supermarket is close to the city centre and stocks ingredients for Chinese, Filipino, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines.
We walk through the door and Jez immediately picks up a huge bag of long cinnamon sticks and another of dried shitake mushrooms.
I ask Jez what he does with dried mushrooms. “I grind them finely in a food processor and add them to mushroom soup, risotto and sauce to give an intense mushroom flavour.”
There is a comprehensive range of spices all sold in large packs which are a must if you are cooking dishes from Asia and the Far East.
Jez spots some fresh ube and ube concentrate. Ube is a beautiful purple yam which is used to make spectacular purple Filipino cakes and purple ice-cream.
There are some hard-to-find ingredients here, for example, fresh galangal, holy basil and kaffir lime leaves for creating authentic Thai dishes.
Jez puts a pandan leaf to his nose and tells me it smells of vanilla and popcorn and is used in Thai dishes to flavour rice.
My eyes light up when I see jars of shrimp paste, kecup manis (a sweet Indonesian soy sauce), chilli sauce, tamarind extract and readymade Thai curry paste. “Readymade Thai curry paste can be livened up with fresh ginger, garlic and lime juice for a really good flavour,” advises Jez.
We walk past large bags of coconut flour and Jez gives me another brilliant cook’s tip.
“Coconut flour can be substituted for expensive ground almond in cakes. It is about half the price and tastes really good.” There are sacks of many kinds of rice and cornmeal which Jez tells me is really tasty cooked up and flavoured, rather like polenta.
The Manchester Superstore, Florence Street, BD3 8EX
The Manchester Superstore is the largest shop that we visit. It is the place to go to buy Middle Eastern and Pakistani ingredients.
They have a fantastic range of spices in a variety of different sized packets, making buying here extremely good value for money. If you are catering for a large family event or special occasion you can bulk buy staples such as rice and all the fruit, vegetables, fresh herbs, meat and dairy products you need.
The fresh food section is impressive and includes treasures like fresh tamarind, a range of chillies, a display of different types of fresh dates such as Rabia and Mabroom, and the sweetest, ripest mangoes.
There are massive bunches of fresh herbs such as methi (fenugreek leaves), curry leaves, mint, dill and coriander, all of which make curries taste and look wonderful. One bargain we spot is a 9kg bag of onions costing just £1.29. Jez also points out a display of tiny lemons for making preserved lemons, a key ingredient for Middle Eastern dishes.
The frozen food section is no less interesting. Here you can find bags of peeled broad beans, also known as fava beans. These are sweet and perfect for crushing, mixing with garlic, lemon and feta cheese to make a spread for sourdough toast. I also spot large bags of hard-to-find frozen artichoke hearts which are so useful for grilling and marinating.
I see a woman piling her shopping trolley high with frozen fish and pluck up the courage to ask her how she will cook them. “The small ones will be coated in a mix of aromatic spices and deep fried rather like whitebait and the larger ones will be used in a spiced main dish,” she tells me.
The chilled dairy section is certainly worth checking out. You will find five-litre tubs of plain yoghurt retailing at just £2.99 and cheese such as paneer and ackawi, a soft Middle Eastern cheese typically eaten with a soft flatbread. There is even a carton of frozen camel’s milk.
I was particularly pleased to find large jars of harissa sauce, date syrup and pomegranate molasses which I use a lot in my own cooking.
Before we leave Jez stops and picks up three ingredients I would have passed by. “Think about buying bags of broken Basmati rice from here. It cooks up quickly and has an amazing texture and flavour and it costs half the price of regular Basmati rice. Also, to make a great coating for chicken pieces blitz a small bag of Bombay mix in a food processor before baking or frying it. And finally this handy tin of curried mustard leaves is delicious stirred through cooked potatoes.”
Dadibhais, 19 Joseph Street, BD3 9HR
If you cook for large numbers of friends and family or venture into catering for events such as street food parties and barbecues, it is worth visiting Dadibhais. “This is storage tub heaven and the place to come to make life easy for you,” says Jez.
Dadibhais stocks knives, different coloured chopping boards, giant paella pans, Balti bowls, cake tins, bread peels, baking trays, cardboard cake boxes, silver cake bases, pizza rings to make lots of small pizzas for a party; plastic trays and tubs to prep up and store ingredients; paper bags, napkins, parchment paper, foil, cups and disposable packaging.
It also stocks large-capacity pressure cookers, digital scales and you can even buy a tandoor for cooking bread and meat on skewers.
For more information on events run by Jez Belsten and the Edward Street Bakery follow @edwardstbakery on Twitter