BANGLATOWN cash & carry
Running low on colocasia stem, or ziziphus mauritiana? Sure you are, you grocery-weirdo. If this is true and you are in need of some very specific ingredients then come a little closer and I shall tell you where you can find them. Don’t be scared, I’ve recently bathed.
Just off of the famously infamous Brick Lane is Banglatown cash & carry. Located in the heart of east London, this specialist supermarket provides a wide range of groceries, utensils and pastes for the local Bangladeshi community and anyone else who is interested. In addition to various spices and plates, Banglatown also sells halal meat and masses of fish and seafood. However, since I can’t remember the details of their halal certification and the variety of Bangladeshi fish that exists both in the sea and in supermarket freezers is equal parts terrifying and thrilling, I shall address said proteins later. Once I’ve finished watching kung fu movies. What this post does cover are a few ingredients necessary for Bengali (and a few other south Asian) recipes and some of my favourite parts of Bangladeshi cuisine…
CHILLI SAUCE aisle:
A spicy pickle made from Bhut Jolokia, otherwise known as the ‘naga morich‘ (morich being the Bengali word for chilli) and considered to be one of the hottest chillies in the world. If you can’t handle heat this will hurt you, however, when eaten responsibly, Mr Naga is perfect for adding a flavour packed inferno to your meal. I would eat this only with strong flavours as it will overpower anything remotely delicate.
Whole spices are useful when making your own curry powders and mixes. First, dry roast them in a pan before grinding in a coffee grinder (which you should never use to grind actual coffee or wash with water. Instead, wipe clean with a tissue or dry cloth and reserve for spices only).
Red is my lentil of choice when it comes to cooking daal (lentil soup). A simple recipe is to slowly simmer the lentils in water until cooked (about 20 minutes on a very low heat), then add more water (the amount depends on the consistency you want), half a teaspoon of turmeric and salt to taste. You can also add tomato segments if you so wish. Put the pan on a medium-high heat whilst you prepare the tarka (fried ingredients added at the end). For a quick tarka, heat flavourless oil (2 tablespoons) or GHEE in a small pan and once hot, add some cumin seeds and dried chillies for about 30 seconds before pouring onto the (now boiling) daal, then turn off the heat and enjoy. Beware of splattering oil.
‘Mung’ daal is made from split mung beans which are larger and sturdier than red split lentils. They tend to hold their shape well and can add texture to daal.
Bombay mix is a traditional Indian savoury snack made from dried spicy ingredients that can include a range of ingredients such as chickpeas, peanuts, chickpea flour noodles and peas.
You can get a wide range of bombay mix, some with only one or two main ingredients for people who like it like that.
A sweet and sour fruit which is useful for making sauces, curry pastes and chutneys. I like adding this to a spicy paste made with fresh green chillies, coriander and salt.
Liquid GOLD. Use it on everything and have a happy, though short-lived and pain-filled life.
A vegetable oil made from pressed mustard seeds; this has a strong smell and taste. Perfect for use in Bengali cooking, especially for making bhortas (mashed vegetables or fish). If you’ve never used this before, do not use it for shallow or deep-frying and be careful if using it to cook with. It’s better to use lightly, as a dressing.
One of my favourite vegetables, pointed gourd or ‘potol’ becomes soft once cooked, whilst the seeds inside remain crunchy and pop when eaten. Before cooking you need to scrape the skin off and remove the top and tail. Halve lengthwise, marinate in some salt, chilli powder and turmeric and then shallow fry either side on a medium heat until easily speared with a fork (about 10 minutes).
Despite the many health benefits associated with eating bitter gourd/’korolla’, I am still reluctant to go anywhere near it. To try to reduce the bitterness, thinly slice and salt for a while before squeezing the juice out. Wash and then fry with onions, turmeric, chilli powder and salt.
Kochur Loti or Lota as it is known in Bengali, is the stem of a species of Colocasia plant. The exact species, I do not know. A cross between asparagus and okra, this thin, slimy and often stringy vegetable is actually delicious. If using fresh loti, you will need to scrape off the outer green-brown skin before cooking. These days you can find peeled, frozen and pre-chopped versions which taste almost as good. Best when cooked with shrimp and Bombay duck (or other dried fish).
Fresh bhut jolokia/naga morich. Try snapping one in half and smelling it.
Bangladeshi limes are very different to the ones we normally get in the UK, with a unique smell and taste that I find difficult to explain. Fragrant-er? Limey-ish? Try one for yourself and stop expecting so much from me! One of the large, knobbly kind (as opposed to the smaller, smoother type which I don’t have a photo of) is the shatkora. Shatkora is a type of citrus fruit, the rind of which is used in a lot of Bengali cooking, notably fish and meat curries. You can, once again, get frozen and sliced packets of shatkora for ease of use. I myself, like it cooked with lentils into a tangy daal.
Otherwise known as ‘boroi’ or jujubes. These taste great when sour and are a popular fruit for chutneys. Eat whilst crisp and unripe and dipped into a mix of salt and chilli powder.
Some vegetables I don’t recognise or know the English/Latin name, but enjoy looking at…
And the inevitably gigantic sacks and drums of rice and oil:
Highly recommended should you find yourself suddenly in need of turmeric or 20 litres of cooking oil.
BANGLATOWN Cash and Carry
67-77 Hanbury St, London E1 5JP