A good food shop should be like a good bookshop. Every item on the shelves should be able to propel you into a whole different world, whether it’s a creamy nata that transports you straight back to a café in Lisbon or a fragrant lemon that teleports you to an Amalfi hillside. A deli should be a whole sensory education about the world’s best cuisines. Often, however, delis have the same tired line-up of olive oil, middle of the road French cheeses and dry panettone. Health food shops are even worse. Between the bags of soya mince and cartons of rice milk, there’s little to get your taste buds going. It takes a truly visionary cook to see the culinary gems amid the high fibre and low sugar. This is particularly true for the gluten and dairy intolerant. Walk into a shop and automatically at least half of its contents are out of bounds. That leaves you to rustle up an endless conveyor belt of meals with a relatively small basket of food.
So shops like Bumblebee in North London are a real find. It’s a whole food store that gives you options. Or I should say a string of shops dotted along Brecknock Road at the far reaches of Tufnell Park. There’s the natural remedy shop, the bakery and two food stores (one for tinned and bottled produce and the other for fresh). With only five minutes to kill before a visit to the dentist across the road, I headed into the nearest of the Bumblebee empire and came out slightly poorer but infinitely richer in ingredients. Along with the extensive ranges of olive oil and soy sauce (where I found the Holy Grail of stir fries - wheat-free tamari) I found something called amazake. Not only did Bumblebee stock amazake but they had about three or four varieties of the stuff. From the outside it looked like anaemic peanut butter. As I was looking for a substitute for sugar and butter icing, I thought I'd give it a go. I picked up the millet variety (it looked the lightest of the lot and could therefore pass as icing) and headed off for my brush with dental hygiene across the road.
It turned out that amazake is not suited to soft icing. It's incredibly dense and sticky. I would however like to find a use for it so if you have any ideas please let me know.