About the specialist knowledge of the Asia Shop team, and range of cooking ingredients provided, including South Asian — experiences & points of view of home cooking by people of different ethnicities:
Our team provides specialist guidance on ingredients for home cooking. About 80% of our customers are Asian, including Middle Eastern, with 20% being British, European, South American and African. The three most popular current cuisine types are Indian, Vietnamese and Thai; Chinese used to be included in this group of most popular food types. We stock a full range of ingredients from covering all needed to make a dish through to ready meals where you just add water. An example is noodles. There are actual noodles, of many kinds; these are the main but just one of often many other ingredients for home cooked noodles. Then there are packet noodles which have sachets of dried and powdered contents to add to the noodle with water; and finally, just basic pot noodle where only boiling water is added.
How Asia Shop feels home cooking differs from restaurant menus dishes ranges?
We know that there is a major difference between restaurant food and home cooking. Restaurants for cost and economies of scale reasons operate on set menus, whereas home cooking comes a huge range of types of home cooked dishes and foods. The main difference between the two is that restaurant food is about making money, which means limited ranges of food on menus and concentrating on things like visual presentation, where glazing and colour and not having emphasis on health giving nutrients in the dishes, comes first, and MSG is too widely used.
Home cooking is totally health and taste focused. In addition, home cooking is often the only way in Western countries like the UK that special specific culture related dishes, foods, of the home country and often particular parts of the home country. Types of special foods for festivals and with spiritual and religious heritage are a good example. About this, Nepal is a good instance: in the UK Nepali dishes are still rare, and only some of the dishes in Nepali restaurants will be actually classical Nepali ones. In the case of regional, ethnic or special occasion foods, dishes and side dishes, the only option is for home cooking.
What are the common questions Asia Shop / Maulatheen members receive about making a successful curry?
We find that English and European customers often come to Asia shop for ingredients to make curries at home rather than getting curry ready meals in the supermarkets; some of these have South Asian friends and have clearly had experience with these of home cooked curries. The main interest from these customers is that they want to make their own curries as it links to making a change to their health through what they cook and eat. As mentioned, there is particular demand for making Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese curries.
The choice to make home cooked food for health change reasons, especially with British particularly but other Western people too who are our customers, is something we are seeing more and more with particularly Millennials. I think that the food culture of the West as we have particularly in Britain, is seeing many turning to the East, to Asia where from the earliest times we have always had food cultures directly linked to keeping and restoring good health and relating to this wellbeing.
How often do Nepali dishes & curries feature in questions from customers?
Extremely rarely. Outside of the Nepali community, apart from some within our Indian and Bangladeshi communities, Nepali food is very little known of and therefore not asked about. However, when we have Nepali customers visit us they know what they need and often have firm favourites where brands of ingredients are concerned. Deepak Tamrakar is an example. On his regular visits to Asia Shop, when he needs assistance on ingredients he always has particular brands in mind and knowledge of the different spices and ingredients, and knows what he wants and needs. In terms of Nepali customers we have quite a few who are students of the university, but other community members too.
Guidance provided by Asia Shop on health benefits and nutrients of ingredients:
In the shop we have literally a whole world of ingredients, in many forms, and of many kinds and brands
To give an example, poverty in some parts of some countries across Asia, as well as pollution, can be major causes for shortening life, but, comparing with the West, such as the UK and USA, basic body health is much better and people can live to great ages with their bodies basically in much better shape and condition compared to those in the West who follow diets and take fast foods where the ingredients can be very processed, low in nutrients and health benefits. I believe this contrast is a real part of why population growth and numbers are so different, for example in China or India. In these food cultures there is direct connection to health preserving and restoring ancient philosophies and concepts, where food, and particularly food nutrients play a major part; there is not the same approach in the West.
Regularly having foods with different very important nutrients, so that those nutrients are absorbed on a daily or almost daily basis is much better than pills and supplements many of which have unknown effects or are much less effective compared to taking the nutrients in the natural way of through foods and dishes. This is the big strength on health of Asian cuisines particularly.
For example on health we in South Asia often don’t use sugar, which has energy value but many bad costs to health, especially cardiovascular system; instead we use Jaggery powder to give sweetness without the harm. Turmeric is a main and essential ingredient in curries because of its colouring element, but in Asia we know it much more for being one of the most powerful natural sources of combatting cancers. Cancers are in comparison to Asia, considerably more commonplace and even growing in known types and scale in the West. There is another very important South Asian ingredient that is very good for health maintenance and restoration, and that is Amla Powder.
Another very health beneficial product we stock comes from Thailand – Thai Holy Basil. As its name suggests health benefits are closely linked to many special foods, and as such are recognised as spiritually important.
Favourite special vegetables – What generally is stocked?
Our customers are mainly people who are largely passionate about home cooking, and as such we cater for providing rarer ingredients, fruits, vegetables, spices, special ingredients. There is often a short shelf life for some of these ingredients, which means we have to take care on how much or many to purchase. For us having these foodstuffs available matters as a lot for we like to make our customers happy as our business is not exclusively about making money.
Asia Shop — other relevant information provided:
We are really pleased to have learned of this project and provide information for it. It is an educational project that also has true value as promoting multicultural society building in an important way in real peoples lives! One thing I want to share is that the customer service and range of stock including rarer items, is very different to contemporary supermarkets.
I and the Asia Shop team feel that in fact the approach we take is much closer to that of British grocery stores of much earlier kinds before the late 1960s and 1970s, before the supermarket age. We have heard so much about how this culture of ours used to be the norm in England from villages to corner stores, and are proud when our own approach is recognised by more elderly British people from time to time, as reminding them of the very different times of their youth in this way.
About Asia Shop:
The Asia Shop approach is to value the customer in meaningful ways, as I have explained regarding rare and special foodstuffs and ingredients, and special brands of important ingredients used in home cooked food. Beyond this we whenever possible do not believe in just throwing food away, so provide a basket where food that is close to its use by date can be taken at no charge by shoppers. This relates to our culture of reverence for food as something of health value and a true gift of Heaven, that therefore cannot just be thrown away. Were able we also encourage our customers to bring their own, or use, bags and reusable bags for Nature, the environment is the source of the sacred gift of food, and in the age of climate change we all for spiritual and practical reasons have to do our best.
We only receive foodstuffs from quality providers, who come from across the world, and so there is careful planning on orders and time for arrival in the case of fresh foodstuffs.
I am a Bournemouth University graduate taking my Masters (this is in IT and data, including particular emphasis on data analysis: this is something we use on a daily and detailed basis, as I showed and shared with you on our Asia Shop monitor screen). Beyond this I work part-time at Asia Shop not only serving customers but also managing stock and orders. I love the work, and especially because of my 15+ years background in Indian restaurants (in the kitchens as chef), including five star hotels and high-end restaurants in India. I have a real passion for food culture as an ancient art in South Asia, and particularly so as from an early age I started to appreciate the role of nutrients in spices, fresh ingredients, meats, vegetables, and therefore understand food, the right types of food prepared in the right ways, as the fundamental to a healthy body and good health.
Asia Shop Bournemouth
Interviewer: Alan Mercel-Sanca. Interview date and location: 23rd August 2019 at Asia Shop