Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Fresh and healthy Barkingside

Ushan's on Barkingside High Street

I eat a lot of unhealthy food but also a lot of healthy food. This post is about the places in Barkingside I know of that sell healthy food. Things have changed for better and worse since I moved here 11 years ago. We've lost the Co-op and its Fairtrade fruit and veg, but we've gained a number of independent stores with their own offerings, not to mention Holland & Barrett. People sometimes call Barkingside a cut-price high street but in all honesty, and I think you'll agree after reading this, I think we're a well-disguised deli high street to easily rival Crouch End or Wanstead. Considering I'm vegan and therefore self-restricted, this is great.

Before a tour of the High Street, a quick plug for Organic Ilford, Redbridge's weekly veg bag scheme. When they get their Barkingside pickup installed (planned for near the Library) I recommend signing up immediately. I'm not someone who claims to be able to tell the difference between supermarket organic and non-organic food but Organic Ilford produce is so tasty I'm often astonished - I didn't think I liked parsnips, for example. Yes, it costs a bit more - but not all that much and the main thing is that unlike the supermarkets it's a fair price which doesn't force the producers to degrade the environment or make things hard for the wildlife, and as well as feeding us it feeds the local economy. 

So, onto Barkingside High Street.

Top of the list has got to be Ushan's - the fruit and veg place on the High Street opposite Superdrug. It seems to have three varieties of everything, all the fresh herbs, and it's also the place to shop on a budget. It's not well fitted out for hot weather so I recommend going early.

Carrying on west down that side of the High Street to the corner of Baron Gardens you get to what I call 'the Turkish shop' but which is probably Cypriot and in any case is actually called Barkingside Food Store. I go there for mixed dried fruit and nuts, pickled vegetables (I like to think these are a tonic because they make me sweat), bulgar wheat, couscous and sometimes tins of pulses and breads of the near and middle east. From time to time I also pick up a bunch of dill (they keep their herbs in tubs of water so they're very fresh). They have a very interesting fresh fruit section and they've even been known to stock quinces.

Sainsbury's is good for Fairtrade produce (coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit - not always fresh or healthy for me but certainly healthier for the producers). I also buy nut milks or soya milk there if I'm using it, as well as vegan pesto and vegan custard from the 'free from' section and nut cutlets and Linda McCartney stuff from the freezer section. I prefer the kosher parve icecream from La Boucherie, but if I can't get that Sainsbury's sells Swedish Glace which is vegan. They also sell dry Amontillado sherry which I'm partial to and which is vegan. Sherry feels healthy but probably isn't. Icecream isn't healthy and should only be taken under supervision and in strict moderation.

Back up towards Fullwell Cross along the other side of the High Street you come to Iceland, which is really good for frozen peas and beans, which are cheaper and usually fresher than non-frozen. Fresh means more nutrients. Buying whole beans rather than sliced ones also means more nutrients - as long as they're not overcooked.

After crossing Fremantly Rd you get to Holland & Barrett which is where I buy vegan junk food, frozen stuff like vegan sausages, burgers, polony &c, fake bacon, maple syrup, vegetable stock, the redbush earl grey tea I like (happens to be caffeine free, which is why I mention it), dried French-style lentils which we aren't allowed to call puy because, like the Cornish pasty makers, the EU is protecting the livelihoods of the producers - which again is healthy in another way - but they're very like like puy, and vegan cheese, which is getting better and better and is healthier for the bovine species. You can get diabetic sweets at H&B.

Next is Veena's which has foods from several continents including this one. Veena's sells wholegrain (aka 'brown') basmati rice and rice noodles (both of which taste better in my opinion), as well as herbs, fruits, vegetables, all the dried pulses (except french-style lentils) and every sauce you need to pep up what you're cooking. I sometimes succumb to the 4 instant noodle packs for £1.20 in the knowledge that you can make these healthier by putting thinly sliced veg in at the same time as you pour on boiling water - suddenly it's a high-fibre, blood-sugar-friendlier meal.

After seeing a heartbreaking documentary about impoverished spice producers in Sri Lanka being browbeaten by buyers, and failing to get any undertakings from Barkingside shopkeepers to stock Fairtrade spices, I buy an increasing proportion on the web. If anybody needs any Fairtrade whole nutmeg, pepper or cinnamon come and see me at the AGM / hustings - they come in bulk so we could buy cooperatively and share the cost.

Finally All Seasons Express, the 24 hour place opposite the swimming pool. There are several different places you can get orzo (the small grain-shaped pasta which I like to put in soups, but I like getting it there. I sometimes buy tinned pulses there and they have a small fruit and veg section at the front. You can get all kinds of surprising in All Seasons - most recently I was excited to spot jars of globe artichoke hearts for £1.50.

Take-away and fast food - Onur are reliably good for humus, pita and salad - their salad is really lovely, containing red and white cabbage, cucumber, tomato, onion and lettuce. A little further towards Fullwell Cross, Orli do the best falafel, humus, and salad in a pita. Best Grill next to Hi Tide is a close second, but I eat theirs more because it's more likely to be open when I'm looking for dinner. You can get a lovely plate of different veggies from Oriental Chef, which does the best Chinese take-aways I've ever eaten.  I'd like to try Sambal Express which must be fantastic because there are often queues out the door, but the one time I went there I couldn't make myself understood on the vegan front, which was pretty embarrassing given the queue.

You'll notice I've left out the two Eastern European shops on the High Street - there's no particular reason for this except they're a bit more meat and dairy. I'm always drawn to the mushrooms in jars though. I'm pretty sure Rowan's has some healthy options too - but I rarely eat out in the day so I can't say for sure.

PS I hope you don't find this preachy, but walking to the shops is non-polluting, convenient for shopping up and down rather than at just one place, and counted as physical activity by the pedometer manufacturers. You may even bump into somebody you know - and socialising is generally thought to be healthy.

Update: a commenter below points out one big omission - the (more than a) farm shop on Forest Road the other side of Fairlop Underground Station. Fruit and veg for lower prices. Reports of pomelos. 


  1. the farm shop on forest road is but a short walk away too. They've recently stocked Pomelos which are a massive citrus fruit and very tasty indeed. Best oranges around too.

    1. Of course, how could I forget? Will add that to the post.

  2. try aldi and lidl

  3. McDonalds do a mean and tasty Sausage and Egg McMuffin for breakfast too!

  4. Don't you worry slightly about the fruit and veg on display outside the shops, just feet from the traffic and the resultant pollution? I never pick blackberries or gather nettles next to a busy road, although they may be abundant, and I never buy vegetables from a display so near to the traffic, which in Barkingside High Street is heavy and often stationary.

    1. Hi Patsy - anything which comes off the road eg particulates will wash off easily. It's the systemic stuff like pesticides which are probably nastier.