Passions come and go but these have hung around for longer than many and deserve a plug:
L’Himal pink salt from the Himalayas – I know it isn’t from the Himalayas but it is the product of unpolluted, ancient seas in India which means it is relatively pure and has a high iron content. I buy it from my local health food shop, the Natural Food Store, which somehow balances the air miles guilt (and it’s from the country of my birth which deserves my support).
Hebridean oatcakes – The organic, wheat-free version is my favourite. Made on Benbecula by the Maclean’s Hebridean Bakery and, with a crunchy, nutty texture, they are intensely satisfying whether with a hunk of Barkham Blue, a juicy splodge of Roquefort or a mound of garlicky houmous. http://www.isle-of-benbecula.co.uk/macleans-hebridean-bakery.htm
Ummera smoked Silver Hill duck breast – I came across Anthony Creswell during an online discussion forum on Linked-In after which he fixed a tasting session at my local deli, Mortimer & Bennett. Before dashing out to shake his hand I slid into his website and realised I had some of his smoked salmon in my fridge, bought in M&B a couple of days earlier. The smoked salmon is delish as is his smoked chicken breast but his smoked duck transports me to foodie heaven. It doesn’t need anything to accompany it other than a few soft leaves – nothing that competes with its flavour which rolls round my palate and is making me salivate as I write this. I make it stretch to three lunches, which justifies its price (it’s worth every penny). http://www.ummera.com
Vacherin Mont D’Or – In season at Christmas, this gloriously runny and richly-creamy full-flavoured cheese is my treat to myself.
Alphonso mangoes – As Christo, my childhood-in-India friend, and I know about mangoes: “there is only one”. I never buy any other. I eat them by the box load so it’s no surprise that I was known for years as Alphonso Jo in A&G Veg. The queen of mangoes, they are much smaller than any other (though, stop press, it’s May 2010 and giant versions have just been launched) and have an intense perfume, a deeper gold-coloured flesh and a rich, creamy flavour. As they are less hairy than other mangoes, sucking the stone is less of a social embarrassment (but keep some floss nearby). Very short season (April to June if you are lucky). Impossible to eat one without going mmm, heaven. Impossible to eat only one.
Mortimer & Bennett – My local deli. It can be a bit of a squeeze in there on Saturdays but it’s worth squishing into the squash to explore its shelves full of wonderful bottles, jars and packets not to mention its groaning deli counter’s fantastic range of cheese, salamis, pâtés, olives, anchovies plus nooks and fridges of eggs, cream, smoked salmon, pies, puds … with almost always something new to try. And not forgetting its real artisan bread – it’s the best for bread in Chiswick. http://www.mortimerandbennett.com
Kallo Organic stock cubes – I know the majority of cooks and chefs recommend Marigold Bouillon powder but I find its manufactured taste reminiscent of the vilest ingredient I’ve ever ingested (monosodium glutamate, to which I am hugely allergic). The subtler flavour of Kallo stock is much more authentic. Although I always make stock when I’ve roasted a chicken, or anything else, these are an essential on my kitchen shelves. I buy them in my local butcher …
Macken’s the butcher – Yes, it’s more expensive than supermarkets but that’s the price of flavour. I’ve never had anything that didn’t taste like it used to and the quality is excellent – as the long queueueueueueues on Christmas Eve and other big occasions prove. They deliver, of course, but queueueueueueueueing is part of the experience. http://www.mackenbros.co.uk
Covent Garden Fishmongers – Another high quality provider, this is where I discovered real smoked mackerel. As with meat from Macken’s, fish from Phil, his son Gary and the team tastes of fish. Apart from the fabulous display in the window, shelves groan with jars of treats from bouillabaisse to mayonnaise, crab pâté and caviar. As I’m a recession-bound singleton who shops from day to day, they are used to me asking for one salmon fillet please, or whatever, and I’ll never forget the day I joined the Saturday queueueueueue to do just that and found myself in front of a far from cash-strapped Chiswickian who ordered three dozen oysters. http://www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk
The Natural Food Store – Also on Turnham Green Terrace, this family-run shop is as ethical as it’s possible to be. Packed floor to ceiling with organic and natural foods, coffees, teas, spices, supplements, soaps … they also appeal every now and then for old bicycles which they repair and send to Africa, so children in remote areas can travel to school. Friendly, willing, generous in spirit and calm, popping in here is a real escape from frantic daily life.
A&G Veg – Owned by Cypriot Andreas, you can be sure he’ll have Cyprus potatoes and olive oil from Greece as well as a brilliant range of fruit and veg that challenges my wish to eat local, seasonal food. Alphonso mangoes from my home town of Bombay are a guilty pleasure that forces me to have an unspoken discussion with myself about the ethics of supporting an independent shop to buy something that travels thousands of air miles but which also provides some of the poorest and most underprivileged people with jobs as pickers and packers for a few weeks a year. It’s a tough call – but it keeps me out of loathsome supermarkets which force down prices in the interests of their own profits and to the disbenefit of our own farmers and growers. Rant, rant. http://www.andreasveg.co.uk
Adamou & Sons – Easy to walk past thanks to its unprepossessing display on the pavement, it’s worth going inside to find not only friendly and willing staff offering to find whatever you’re looking for but also a surprising array of world foods as well as supermarket staples. Its feta cheese is the best I’ve found in a shop and it’s where I buy chick peas and tahini to make houmous (though their own houmous is not to be sniffed at). Chiswick High Road, on the towards Hammersmith stretch.
Whisk – My local kitcheny shop, at the top of Devonshire Road a few doors before La Trompette. With a friendly team, all of whom cook, it’s a source of good advice as well as an excellent range of stylish essentials and gadgets. Their prices stack up, too, usually matching the John Lewis Partnership’s prices particularly if you consider the cost of travelling to and from JL or PJs to buy what you can buy here. Such a success, it has opened shops in Ealing and Putney and I’m waiting for more … http://www.whiskcooking.co.uk
Jo Scott-Dalgliesh – My nutritionist. I still struggle with the concept of taking supplements rather than eating real food but, saddled with adrenal fatigue, it’s worth doing in case they stimulate my adrenal gland so I can regain some get up and go (instead of depending on dogged determination). She’s perceptive, sensitive, understanding and very on the ball. Weirdly, she grew up two roads away from me in Hook Heath though a decade later than I did. Annoyingly. http://www.nutritionsolutions4health.co.uk
Apple Macintosh – Nothing to do with food, other than being the computer on which I write this blog, but as a longstanding fan of anything Apple I can’t not mention it. A MacBook Pro, an iPod and now an iPhone enhance my life. I hope someone somewhere is loving my old grape-coloured iMac.