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Nov 3, 2007 05:24 AM

What's to be had in Southall?

I've only briefly traveled to this lovely (and pretty far off) area which is almost as uniethnic as a New York "neighborhood." I say that because every area I've been told to go to for a certain ethnic group thus far has been about half of whatever group it is, which is a joke compared to ei. Jackson Heights, Washington Heights (deeper in now) and even the lower parts of Chinatown in the city.

Soooo... What's to be had as far as markets, food and stores go? The areas pretty much an enigma to me still and I'll be heading back this week.

Thank you,


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  1. go to the markets and shops and ask around for restaurants the cashier recommends. go to dokal for your spice fix - in fact, get black salt and see if they have aam papad (say aam like a texan would say i am - a'hm) (dried mango sheets). if they dont, ask them who does. sprinkle some black salt on your aam papad and wolla! you have bombays favourite road side snack when i was growing up.

    3 Replies
    1. re: howler

      Much thanks. Sounds almost like the Hispanic tendency to toss salt and lemon juice on mango slices.

      1. re: JFores

        whaddya mean hispanic? just before mangoes ripen, they pass through a tart firm phase called kairi - green mango. those eaten with salt + chilli powder = heaven. also, lesser mangoes might get a bit of the salt + chilli powder + lime (not lemon!) juice.

        go to southhall, wander around, eat somewhere and come back and report. i almost went there today, but after hanging out on the a40 for half an hour i gave up and went back home.

        1. re: howler

          Haha! Very well. Ah yeah, I was thinking in food Spanish. Limon.

          I'll do a Southall run either tomorrow or Monday. Tomorrow is appealing because I might get markets. I managed to try a Portugese bread cart today in Brixton. Tasty, cheap and filling.

    2. Alright, I just returned from my South Hall day trip. Basically South Hall is (in NY terms) about twice as large as Bengali Jackson Heights in terms of store concentrations. As far as food is concerned, many stores have carts outside where chot poti and simple desserts are fried/prepared/lathered with sauce, chickpeas and onions to order. Most of those are priced at around 2.50 for 6 (the chot poti related stuff at least) and are quite good. The most noticeable restaurants are two which do not allow BYOB or alcohol at all towards the end of the main high st (both seemed to be making a killing off the locals around lunch time and I will probably try one next time. One exudes an expensive look while the other seems to be more of a large food hall. Upon the recommendations of my sales clerk at the largest market on the street (and supplier of ahm papad with black salt which was quite tasty and kept me busy on the bus ride of death back home. Loooong bus rides.) I went to Punjabee. It was consistently crowded with South Asians (including a family behind me that was either Assamese or Chakma or something. The old woman in the group was wearing local dress that I've never seen, appeared Assamese or Chakma and had multiple piercings. I spent my meal wondering what language they were speaking.) Ok to the food... I got lamb saag which was OK. Nothing special, nothing on par with a Spicy Mina's meal and nothing I couldn't make at home. I ate it with two fried flat breads. The total was something a tad bit over 6 pounds . I wouldn't say it was worth it and I probably won't eat there again, but oh well. The saag was too oily and blatantly restaurantish, they were VERY skimpy on the amount of lamb in it and the portion was quite small for the price.

      In the future I'm relying on my own scouting! The large obviously Pakistani or Muslim Punjabi owned food hall seems the most promising of the places. It was packed at lunch and absolutely buzzing. Everyone I could see from the window was eating with their hands, though this was true of all the restaurants I passed. I don't trust South Asian restaurants that have fork using majorities! If I eat there again, I'll try one of those or I might go to the 1st floor of the Himalayan shopping center and see what Kabul restaurant has. Judging by the name I'd assume it's Afghan, but I'm guessing it's probably some pseudo-Punjabi mix of kebabs and lamb dishes. As long as it's not a random doner kebab place with a more ethnic name, I'll probably try it sometime.

      As far as the stores and markets go, they're EXCELLENT. The halal markets, markets in general, etc are great and carry full lines of basically everything. The fish sections, however, leave much to be desired. It's not a Bengali area, but I was still expecting better. I was considering loading up on hilsa for cheap, but nope; really small or old frozen fish sections. Definitely not recommended for that.

      The population is majority Punjabi/Punjabi Sikh. Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are noticeably mixed in with Sikhs seeming to hold the majority. Aside from police officers, I saw about 8 other non-South Asian in 4 hours.

      Oh and Punjabee does not appear to have a tandoor at all. So no tandoor cooked items, naan, etc. Their breads are pre-made and seem to be refried upon ordering.

      6 Replies
      1. re: JFores

        The two "famous" Southhall restaurants are Brilliant and Madhus. These two have reputations that stretch far and wide and both have been going for a long time. Brilliant is a little bit away from the main shopping area and has just been refurbished. I have had good meals in both (even in Southhall) they may stretch your budget.

        1. re: PhilD

          I'll look into one of them the next time I go. Which do you feel is better? More importantly, which is cheaper?

        2. re: JFores

          great stuff! hope you enjoy the aam papad. and is this the first time you've had black salt? its used a lot in chaat, fyi

          my local newsagent is afghani and he told me about kabul - i was actually trying to go there yesterday as well but i got disgusted with the traffic on a40. sheesh, its so hard getting out of london - 7 years here and i've been to the countryside maybe all of 5 times.

          1. re: howler

            Take the train 40 minutes south and all of Surrey is at your disposal. You're missing one of the most beautiful areas in all of England.. shame, shame. The trick is not to drive although the A3 gets good after awhile. Or go west to Berkshire and enjoy that great pub next to The Fat Duck.. Windsor is next door but that's not really countryside. Have you read any of the Khaled hHosseini books about the real Kabul... fantastic stuff.

            1. re: zuriga1

              oh i've travelled extensively throughout england as a student on my way home to bombay from the states.

              very little as a passport holding citizen, though you'd think the fun we had travelling to devon (bovey castle) would inspire us to do more. the feeling is that we'd rather put our travelling pain into a destination like rome, or athens, or madrid or budapest than go out to the countryside.

              but berkshire sounds like a wonderful idea, will float it and see if i can get takers. and thanks for the tip for khaled hosseini's books!

            2. re: howler

              I'll give Kabul a try. The aam papad is excellent. I loaded up on that and hot mix. The mango pickles are not exactly what mom (well... someone else's mom) used to make, but they're an acceptable snack. After I passed Easling, the surroundings on the bus looked terribly Long Islandish and I was getting scared! Thankfully it re-Queens-ized by the time we hit the High St. You access Kabul through a little back alley, btw. I was meaning to get up the stairs to check the menu but I was diverted by an entire row of tailor shops back there. I've been looking for cheap alterations without having to go to my old Sicilian man in Brooklyn.

              Nope, we kept black salt and white pepper around for the same reasons. Even though neither one is ever noticeable by color after it's used...

          2. Brilliant work JFores! I've been meaning to head out there as well but with all the warnings about how long it takes to get there, I'm not so sure anymore. Black salt is fantastic. Now that you have it, indeed you will need to make some chaat.

            Less adventurous, though no less instructive, I was in Brick Lane yesterday. The two large format grocery stores there are Bangla City and Taj. Both perfectly functional for getting what you need and only a shortish underground ride away.

            I walked away with some pohe (poha), "rice flakes", which can be cooked many interesting ways. (A recent thread with Howler bhai had put this in mind.) A quick call to the aged M, and I took the precaution of buying curry leaves and hing, two key spices that Waitrose probably doesn't carry.

            Now I need to work off my leftovers so I can cook my pohe.



            7 Replies
            1. re: bombaybeauty

              There is a train to Southall from Paddington - I think it takes approx 15 minutes. I suspect it is the "Heathrow Connect" service, which is the cheap version of Heathrow express but stops at all the stations on the way. Avoids buses and traffic jams.

              1. re: PhilD

                How much is it? I'm able to do the entire Southall trip for 1.80 because the 207 is one of those super long buses that about 1 out of every 10 people actually swipes their oyster on. My God, that's a long bus ride without a book, though.

                My Thought Process: "Oh, I better not bring a book. I don't want extra stuff to carry and I need to pay attention so I get off at the right time and see the sights."

              2. re: bombaybeauty

                Chaat seems quite difficult to make. The little fried pouchy thing bit of it at least. Is it hard? Black salt is pretty tasty. I've had it before in some dishes; I know it more as something that people keep around for color. Like white pepper.

                I haven't been to Taj, but Bangla City is where I got more or less all of my original desi kit in London. When I entered that store, I nearly fell to my knees. I was hearing all these "Brick Lane is fake now etc etc" stories and then I entered Bangla world and I was like "YAY! FROZEN FISH SECTION AND OVER 30 COMPANIES OF BASMATI!"

                I forgot to get curry leaves yesterday....... bah...........

                I manged to get a kilo of mutton chops for two pounds this weekend so I need to decide on how to cook them... I've repeated my same goat curry and generic lamb recipes quite a few times now. I need to harass my friend to get more of her mother's recipes.

                1. re: bombaybeauty


                  could you please compare and contrast bangla city and taj with pataks? is taj the same as the taj spice packets you see around?

                  1. re: howler

                    Ouch! I feel like I've been given an essay question but didn't study hard enough! Both just on Brick Lane. Both large format stores with South Asian ingredients. If I recall correctly, both had some sort of meat and fish counter (or was that just Bangla City?) Bangla City felt a little more abundant, but I'm think I'm reacting to the layout of the space. In any case, they are just a few minutes apart. I'll go in for a closer study when I'm back there again. I don't believe Taj is related to the people who do the spices, though I could be wrong on this:



                    1. re: bombaybeauty

                      i thought you would get a larf out of the 'compare and contrast' bit.

                      1. re: bombaybeauty

                        Bangla City has a very very large fish section.

                  2. JFores, another good thread that you instigated. My knowledge of Southall places is actually a little limited as I just tend to blindly follow my dad whenever I go there and don't always make a note of names and places. That said, some thoughts for your future visits:

                    * Don't bother with Madhus or Brilliant. They are good but not spectacular and pricewise will result in your eating locusts and leaves for weeks on end which we certainly don't want.
                    * Do go to the gurdwaras especially the two ones that have opened in recent times (see link below for one of them). You seem like a curious and adventurous soul and they are interesting from an architectural and cultural standpoint. Plus you can get some wonderful free North Indian vegetarian food. Do cover your head and take your shoes off when you go in, do make a donation and don't take your whole faculty along with the promise of free food :-)
                    * If you go to Dokal (or any other sizeable Asian supermarket) look for shakar which is unrefined cane sugar either from Pakistan or India. Last time I visited my parents up north, my mum pulled out a big bag of the stuff (purchased from Dokal) and we proceeded to eat it like 2 schoolkids, first wrapped in home made rotis (very North Indian) and then on its own. It's a great snack and totally moreish.
                    * If you like, I can send you a simple recipe for fruit chaat which is a common Indian street snack and easily conjured up at home using chaat masala/kala namak, tamarind, lime juice, fresh exotic fruit. Always goes down a treat at dinner parties especially when served in tall glasses with long spoons.
                    * Tip of the hat to Howler for the aam papad rec. I was one of the few British Indian kids I know who used to love going to the home country during school holidays, looking back I guess that the reasons were 99% chow related and items like pani puri, aam papad and gana ka ras (sugarcane juice) stick in my mind to this day. Funny thing is that you can now buy the stuff in Tesco but it's the moister, orangey stuff not the darker, chewier, leathery version that I particularly relish.

                    Keep exploring and reporting back!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: oonth

                      I am very very interested in checking out the gurdwaras. I didn't see either of these massive looking structures. How do I go about covering my head when I enter? How do I go about getting the food? Are donations made in a box at the entrance or something like that? What days are preferred?

                      I'll look into shakar. I've had cane sugar before, though I've never eaten it with roti! Cane sugar juice is pretty tasty as well. Mmm Jackson Heights...

                      Please send the fruit chaat recipe (or any chaat recipe.) I'll definitely put it to use, though I've been lazy with cooking this week (ate at the Indian YMCA and the above substandard place in Southhall. Indian YMCA dinner is actually better than Punjabee. Was going out to a club and didn't have an hour to cook my two chickens or about 6 hours to do my goat curry the way I usually do it.)

                      I really need to load up on rotis, pooris, etc. I haven't seen them in the same home made bagged fashion that they have in NY. In Jamaica or Jackson Heights, you have bakeries distributing bags of made but yet unfried rotis, pooris, dal pooris, etc. I'm probably not looking hard enough. I'll check next time. I'm quite unfamiliar with Punjabi food, items, etc so I need to read a bit on their food. When I think Punjabi, I think Sikh kebabs and bread or something lamb related 9 times out of 10. I think of eating with a roti or a naan instead of just my hands. I dunno, I need a proper Bengali place where I'll feel perfectly alienated, foreign and be able to eat with my hand. I find it funny that South Asians in London actually seem more westernized than those in NY in many ways. Eating with hands seems very very rare here in restaurants (aside from in Southall.)

                      They've got it at Tesco? The kind I have is quite leathery. It's almost brown. It's pretty tasty and has good chew to it. It's like really really good fruit leather that's a bit thicker and a bit oddly salty.

                      1. re: JFores

                        For the gurdwara, you can knot the corners of a handkerchief and put this on your head, that's what we do when we go. Once you're inside everything should be quite self-explanatory but if in doubt just follow what other people are doing. There may even be an information desk in one or both of them. Donations are usually placed in front of the main shrine where there is a priest or priests singing incantations. Once you've looked around, taken a blessing at the shrine, made a donation, then go and have some food and get some prasad (blessed food equivalent) usually in the form of halwa. Any day should be fine.

                        Will post a fruit chaat recipe for you on the home cooking board. There are meat dishes in Punjabi cooking, often tandoori style, but there are also lots of vegetarian dishes (mains and snacks) as well as quite a lot of [river] fish dishes. Punjabis are also crazy about condiments, achars etc but then again you could say that about most Indians. Punjabis are also proud of the relative fertility of their state, the quality of produce is very good. Interesting observation about the greater westernisation of South Asians over here, may also have something to do with prosperity, there's plenty of cash sloshing around most of the South Asian nabes in London.

                        Glad to hear that you've got hold of the good stuff where aam papad is concerned.