Lunch on a budgetBristol Sweetmart Deli, 71-84 St Marks Road, Easton, Bristol, by Mark Taylor
To enter the Bristol Sweetmart is to enter a whole new world of flavours, tastes and aromas.
What started in 1978 as a shop on St Marks Road, mainly feeding local taxi drivers, has become an international business specialising in more than 8,000 different food and drink products.
While the wholesale side of the Majothi family's business supplies almost half of the Indian restaurants in the city, the retail side serves the local community via its extended shop in the heart of Easton.
Whether it's tahini from Lebanon, basmati rice from Pakistan or dates from Iran, it's a pretty safe bet that you'll find it here.
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The fresh produce section is worth the journey alone. As well as fresh curry leaves, a vast range of chillies and exotic fruits, there are things here I have never seen before. If it's leaf turnips, white marrows, luby and valor you're after, then this is the place.
Bristol Sweetmart must rank as one of the very best food emporiums in the UK.
Next to the shop is a deli selling Indian curries and snacks to take away or eat in the small seated area, which is essentially a few red and chrome stools lined up along a counter next to the shelves of pasta products.
This is certainly not a posh Michelin-star restaurant experience, but then that's probably why it's so enjoyable. You simply choose your meal, pay at the counter and it gets heated up in the microwave. Served in clear plastic boxes with plastic cutlery and the sort of white disposable plates you see at kids' parties, it's as basic as dining out gets but it doesn't matter as the food more than makes up for it.
I went for the chicken jalfrezi (£4.99) and boiled basmati rice (normally £1.79 but 99p when bought with a curry) – that's under £6 for a substantial lunch.
Chicken jalfrezi has become one of those curries that seems to have lost its way thanks to high street Indian restaurants and supermarket ready meal versions. It always seems to be more about the heat and the chillies than it does the chicken, the spicing and the peppers used.
This was an exemplary version; the large, tender chunks of chicken breast immersed in a thick, medium-spiced tomatoey sauce heady with cumin, coriander and turmeric, with garlic, onions and slices of sweet, skinless red, yellow and green peppers. The rice was perfectly cooked – loose-grained and steaming hot.
Authentic Indian food cooked on the premises by highly experienced chefs and sold for the same price as a supermarket ready meal – the Sweetmart Deli is a genuine find.