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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Happy Birthday

Today was the 30th Anniversary of the opening of one of the world's top 100 shops, a shop that I am delighted to say is at the bottom of my street.

The story goes that Yasar Halim opened his bakery on Green Lanes in 1981 because he could not find anywhere that sold the kind of bread he got back home. Since then, he has expanded the bakery to include a fantastic grocers next door.

Like most shops on Green Lanes, the business serves the area's huge Cypriot population. But the place has also got a formidable and well deserved reputation amongst many of London's top foodies. And anyone I have met who has ever lived in this area always speaks glowingly about this shop.

I first moved to the Woodberry Down Estate on Green Lanes in October 1998. I'd been studying at Oxford but had come back to the capital to finish off my education at the London School of Economics.

It it did not take me long to realise that I had landed in vegetarian heaven. In fact, I would argue that Green Lanes is THE very best place for a vegetarian to live in the whole of the United Kingdom.

I used to like nothing more on Saturday morning than to go pottering up one side of Green Lanes, dipping in and out of the various food shops until I got to Wood Green Shopping City. There, after buying a few bits and pieces from the health food store, I would cross the road and potter back to the Woodberry Down.

Yasar Halim was the stopping point both on the way out and on the way back home again. Their cakes are stunning, but actually its the savouries I alway go for. On the way out, I would have one of his to die for spinach Boreks to munch as I toddled along. On the way back, it had to be a flat bread to take home to eat with the produce I brought in the grocery section.

Now, earlier in the week, I wrote about YH's legendary flatbreads and I still cannot believe that something soooooo tasty can be sooooo cheap. Don't tell Mr Halim this, but they would probably sell those breads in Fortnum and Mason for five times what he charges!

In recent years, Yasar Halim's emporium has been voted as one of the world's 100 great shops - and it's not difficult to see why. The range of food is immense and the prices give the major supermarkets a serious run for their money.

What I love about the place is that as a single man living on my own, I can buy only what I need. Tonight, I made a bean stew, so all I needed was a tin of tomatoes a tin of chick peas and a single onion. Total cost 99 pence, but from it I made dinner this evening and lunch to take to work tommorow. Try doing that in Tesco for less than a fiver.

I also bought a pack of cinnamon - 79 pence for 100 grams. In the nearby Sainsbury that would have cost me £1.55. And when as a vegetarian, you start working out the TRUE cost of what supermarket charge, it soon becomes clear that people like Yasar Halim are much cheaper.

And as well as cheap prices, you also get a fantastic experience. As a vegetarian and a cook, I like nothing more than pottering about in food stores. Yasar Halim is a place where you can do that. You can take a recipe book in there and the staff immediately start asking after you and giving you tips on what to cook.

In 2005, I moved out to the Hertfordshire countryside to look after a friend's house. After Green Lanes it came as a sad shock to me to discover that the only place you could do your shopping in the 'English Countryside' was at the massive Tesco at Brookfield Farm. No wonder I started growing my own!

Knowing that I was that close to YH was a major deciding factor in my decision to move back to this part of London. And now, its the place where I buy 90% of my food. I love it. Happy Anniversary Mr Halim and here's hoping you will have many more.