I have always loved visiting Chinese supermarkets. If I never visited another Asda, Sainsbury's or Tesco again it would be too soon (can just about tolerate Aldi), but for me, Chinese supermarkets are an experience worlds apart from the drudgery of the Western weekly shop.
I used to live in Chorley in Lancashire until I was nine years-old, and I can vividly recall many occasions where my dad would take me and my brother into Manchester's Chinatown on a Saturday. I remember nothing about Manchester city centre but Chinatown, the largest in the country. There my dad had a favourite supermarket - which was actually a smallish shop packed to the rafters - and above the shop was the same family's popular restaurant. This shop sold delicious dumplings and meats, fresh vegetables and dried beans, spices and curries. It stocked tins with labels I couldn't make out, more exotic teas than I had ever seen in my life, and noodles. So many noodles!
I quickly learned where to locate my dad's store cupboard items. To this day he remains a talented and enthusiastic cook, and while we enjoyed the odd takeaway as much as any other family when I was growing up, his home cooked chinese was a real occasion. It was my job to set the table every evening, and Chinese meals warranted tealight table warmers, chopsticks and knives and forks, and a kitchen roll plonked elegantly in the middle for sticky fingers. Once I even 'borrowed' four mismatched flannels from the bathroom, plopped them in bowls of warm water and proudly presented them to my family after the spare ribs...
When I moved to Leeds as a student it was a comfort to me to locate the Chinese supermarket as quickly as possible, buying a huge tub of black beans which would last my three years. That shop has since moved to shiny new premises, but I thought the original shop I found behind Leeds Markets had far more character and certainly a warmer welcome (and cheaper prices too).
These days the grown up me has shifted focus a little on visits to Sheffield's Chinese supermarket. You see, I have discovered the joys of crockery. These bowls, 75p each plus VAT, are exotic with a look not out of place among my great grandmother's Chinese tea set, so into my basket they leapt. A delightful spoon with a fish... 80p.
...And the tea section is very alluring these days. Gunpowder Tea? Seven year-old me would have loved the idea of such a drink, surely sipped by Chinese pirates. What if I explode!
So home I come with bargainous treasures, and to a rather different sort of afternoon tea (for which I still lay the table). Great Grandmother's china, (complete with rather more delicate china spoons than my delightful fish, but still), gunpowder tea, and maybe even a fortune cookie, because I haven't grown out of those either.
My fortune cookie worked so well, I won the Chinese lottery! Or maybe I bought a pack of lucky paper money for 50p, thinking it would make a fun addition to my smash book or a #PostCircle letter.
It's funny how even now, I tend to visit Chinese supermarkets with my dad. Just me and him. And even now I leave him to choose his store cupboard favourites. I offer no opinion, as I might in Asda. I simply breathe in the familiar smell of aniseed, and follow my feet to look at the pretty teapots, smiling to myself as I think of the scrumptious childhood favourites in store that evening.
Do you use Chinese supermarkets?