I don’t often do a weekly supermarket shop. Not because I am particularly virtuous, but because I live bang in the middle of Camden, and anything I might want to eat or cook with from, say, agave syrup to avocados, egg whites to eggplants is on sale within five minutes of my front door.
But f I am taking meetings in Soho, then I often walk down two blocks to pop into See Woo on Lisle Street, right off Leicester Square, and in the middle of Chinatown, and do my equivalent of a weekly shop: I come out laden with carrier bags filled with greens, cellophane noodles, tofu and at least three types of mushrooms, so I can make huge bowls of healthy soup.
I don’t think anyone would describe Lisle Street as glamorous, but it is filled with Chinese restaurants…
I’ve been eschewing the Chinese supermarkets on Gerrard Street around the corner, and shopping at See Woo since I moved to London over ten years ago, because the gawping tourists in the Gerrard Street stores make shopping a nightmare: I was forever bashing my basket into the back of someone’s legs, or twitching in line behind people staring blankly at handfuls of unfamiliar change.
I am usually the only non Asian face in See Woo, but I never feel excluded: when asked nicely the shop staff kindly if brusquely guide me to the right produce. (SeeWoo claims to stock over 8000 authentic Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indian, Korean, and Japanese fresh, frozen, live, dry and canned products in its stores.)
Mainly I shop for fresh produce: There is every single possible type of Asian green on offer. Do check the prices carefully, because there are some that are quite rare and correspondingly expensive. (But a lovely big bag of pak choy should set you back about £2.50.) I also buy choy sum, tightly furled baby Chinese leaves, big fat spring onions, heads of broccoli, long beans, garlic shoots, and great chunks of ginger for pennies for juicing.
If bulk buying chili is your thing, then you are in luck.
And the prices! These boxes of oyster mushrooms are £2.85 and are far fresher, meatier and larger than the ones in Western supermarkets. I also buy fresh shitake mushrooms, tinned straw mushrooms, won ton wrappers, bags of fried tofu, miniature cans of coconut milk, (which I can’t seem to buy anywhere else and are handy if you live alone), dried and fresh noodles, and bottles of sesame oil and good soy sauce.
My only tip would be to bring a clothes peg during Durian season.
If you’d like to watch my short film guide to what I buy in Chinese supermarkets, it’s here.
8-20 Lisle Street, London, WC2H 7BE