Saturday, 27 October 2012

A week of supermarket food

Broadway Market is a remarkable place – even in the rain.
Last weekend was an unusual one. It started with work on Saturday covering the London leg of the TUC’s March for a Future that Works.

This was an opportunity for a new form of multitasking – emailing and walking at the same time.

I say “walking”, but given the speed of the march and its stop-start progress, it was more of an unnatural waddling gait. And I know from conversations since that it wasn’t just me.

By the end, my thighs were in a state of stiffened, screaming agony and my toes were hardly thanking me for being cramped into boots that were not designed for walking such distances.

The latter serves me right. I have a pair of Docs, but they need wearing in. And Saturday was not the occasion on which to start that process. I’ll need to spend some days with plasters strapped over my heels – or they’ll be shredded.

The day also offered a rare opportunity for trying some ‘street food’. Well, maybe not. In reality, it was a case of whatever fodder I could get for a late lunch in Hyde Park, because lugging something around all day would have been very inconvenient.

In essence, this means: ‘something in a bun’. Apart from chips, that is. Which, of course, go perfectly well between slabs of buttered bread. But such was the exception to the food-in-a-bun rule last Saturday.

I selected a van on the basis of it having the shortest queue, and selected a burger. If not on the rocks, I declined the cheese, which was a de rigueur square of plastic, and opted simply for the ketchup to add some moisture.

The bun was better than expected – it wasn’t one of those rather dismal cotton wool affairs – and the burger itself seemed as though it was proper meat, properly made.

So well done to which caterer it came from.

The Royals Parks staff deserve a mention too, for having done wonders to avoid the entire rally area being a complete quagmire after the combined rain and concert activity of the summer.

Later, back at home and slumped in a chair while The Other Half (who’d also been working, but on his backside and not his feet) cooked up a sausage dinner, it dawned that the chances of my feeling like getting up early the following morning to do a weekend food shop were remote.

The most obvious solution was to break my usual rules, and add groceries to an order from Ocado for Sunday.

With fresh food involved, I checked provenance and opted for organic as much as possible.

On Sunday itself, we had steaks from Daylesford – Ocado is now marketing their produce as a ‘farm shop’. I cooked them in the oven and they were pretty decent.

I did leeks and button mushrooms on the side: both organic; both English, but both lacking the level of flavour I’d get from my not-quite-organic greengrocer on Broadway Market.

This is interesting, as it supports my increasing belief that being organic does not, per se, produce great taste, but growing naturally and harvesting as late as possible is what does that.

Supermarkets have highly centralised systems that work against that rather than for it – which is alwo why much produce is harvested before it’s properly ready, thus cutting off the proper process of ripening.

On Tuesday, it was time for some Cornish monkfish fillet, wrapped in prosciutto and then baked for four to five minutes in an oven set at 170˚C (fan).

Summery versions of such a dish then add a delicate vine of cherry tomatoes: I doused it in a tin of organic chopped tomatoes in their own juice (and nothing else). And back into the oven it went for a further 10-15 minutes, with a check to see whether the fish was cooked through.

This worked well – tasty and moist.

On Wednesday, the remaining steak from the pack was diced and browned in lard before being removed to another plate.

Onions were chopped and then softened, together with some celery (Broadway Market celery, that is). A spoon of flour went in and was cooked through for a minute, before the contents of a bottle of ale was added, bit by bit, stirred in and, with the heat up, thickened.

Then the meat was returned to the pan, followed by some sliced carrots that had been par boiled for five minutes, and some halved potatoes that had had also been pre cooked for about the same time.

And that was fairly hearty and sustaining.

On Thursday, it was a matter of a jar of Bockwurst cooked in the usual way, with sliced onions, a few boiled spuds and some sliced cabbage on the side, plus proper German mustard.

It was, in general, a decent week from a food perspective. But the experience bolstered my understanding that it is clear that, even opting for the best possible quality that’s available, fresh fruit and vegetables from a supermarket are not as fresh as those I can get even from a once-weekly market or from any of the small local shops (mostly Turkish, in our area).

Although it’s worth noting that this past week’s leeks and mushrooms etc were considerably better than any of the veg I had in days of yore, when I actually shopped at Tesco.

I was incredibly glad to get back to Broadway Market this morning.


  1. I've so far had a lady ask me if my salmon fillet was organic. I'd already explained to her that it was wild salmon from Canada, as opposed to the bright orange, fat-streaked salmon fillets on most supermarket slabs. I've also had someone ask if the lamb was free-range.

  2. ~LOL~ It is extraordinary the lack of understanding.

  3. A couple of points - if you've ever had an opportunity to visit a Costco warehouse you'll see what the burger vans purchase as catering packs, you can buy some superb burgers (and indeed some superb joints of meat) in Costco, and you can buy huge packs of burgers of unknown origin extremely cheaply (per unit), I can't recall how they grade them but the lowest grade indicates to the purchaser that they shoudl use some imagination when describing them.

    Also, I drive home up Kirkstall road, the A65, from Leeds centre every evening with the eldest daughter and at least once a week when we're stood in traffic I point out to her a shop unit that looks a lot more modern than the standard Victorian shop + living accomodation above units - "That was the first supermarket in Leeds" I tell her, I can remember it because my mother used to drag me and my brother down Kirkstall Rd every week and in the early 1960s the arrival of a self-service supermarket was ground-breaking, not warmly recieved though for the housewives (you would never see a man in there unless he was the manager) had to go and fetch the shopping themselves rather than have someone serve them - my mother boycotted supermarkets for years for just that reason :)

    1. As always Jerry, a wonderful mix of memory, with an underlying layer of very interesting social history/comment.

      I've got some plans to do stuff looking at the history of Broadway Market as a street that died and then was reborn, in (hopefully) the coming weeks, I just have to try and wedge an interview into an incredibly hectic schedule. I really hope it sheds some light on what happens more widely. I think I know some of the stuff (I've spoken to a number of people already who have anecdotal stuff) but there's one businessman who has survived it all – and he has a very serious story to tell.