Sunday, January 21, 2007

The wastelands of Colindale

We bought my wedding jewellery yesterday on Green Lanes: white gold drop earrings and an Indian-style necklace that cascades from the neck that will match the silver and light grey Benares silk sari I will be wearing. Afterwards, we popped over to Hampstead to discuss wedding flowers with our florist. We agreed on a variety of cream, white and natural green flowers and foliage as I want to keep both the decorations and my bouquet simple and elegant. Then we continued further up the Northern Line to Colindale.

The only reason to venture out to desolate Colindale in north London is to visit Oriental City. I lived in Colindale for a few months when I was preparing for my PhD viva in the British Library. My friend's parents generously allowed me to stay in their house there while they lived it up in India. The house itself was lovely and homely, but the area around it was bleak.

The cheap furniture store MFI is headquartered in Colindale and all the major car manufacturers have huge showrooms there. There is no main high street and the only place to buy groceries is an Asda supermarket.

Oriental City looks like a factory on a vast industrial estate from the outside, but inside it is an Asian paradise, with aisle after aisle selling produce from across South Asia - Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore. There are satay and durian stalls outside on the way to the car park.

And then there is the food court that wouldn't look out of place in Hong Kong or Bangkok: a vast space lined with stalls selling Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Japanese and Chinese dishes. You choose your dishes from photos on the wall and eat them alongside hundreds of others on tables and chairs in the centre.
When I lived in Colindale, I frequently ate at Oriental City. This time we only shopped. We packed our baskets with assorted fruit - mango, lychee, rambutan, jackfruit, longan and mangosteen; with vegetables such as long beans, baby aubergines and pea-sized eggplants; and with other goodies such as tofu, palm sugar, dried shrimps, beef and fragrant sticky rice. We had so much food, we had to order a cab.

Back at home we fried beef strips and tofu chunks with whole cumin, red chilli flakes, ginger, fresh chillis and spring onions and ate the dish with wonton noodles and stir-fried greens tossed with soy sauce.
For dessert we shelled, peeled, cut and ate half the fruit, which were glossy, succulent and so sweet we both fell into a sugar coma afterwards while watching the silly Thai rom-com Fighting for Love with the irresistable Tony Leung.

Oriental City joins Loon Fung in Chinatown, Arigato in Soho, and Taste of Siam in Camden as our favourite stopovers for Asian ingredients. It is such a shame that the tenants at Oriental City are fighting closure. Its new owner, the property company Development Securities, is planning a massive £200m redevelopment of the site to include a DIY superstore, a school and housing. Ex-Arsenal footballer Ian Wright and his children are regular visitors to Oriental City and Wright is also backing the campaign to save "the real Chinatown" (so named because few tourists make it up there). Wright recently led a delegation to meet Ken Livingstone's planning officials at City Hall and he delivered 5,000 letters of protest to stop the redevelopment.

No comments: