Tucked just off Edgware Road, you will find Green Valley grocery shop, every inch of it rammed with ingredients and delicacies sought out by Arabic customers. There are fruits and vegetables – blushing pomegranates, feathery bunches of herbs, crisp miniature cucumbers, gourds and fresh dates.
The olive and pickle section is vast – barrels brim with the marinated and preserved, olives slicked with oil and neon-purple turnips. A walk around the corner reveals the sweets counter, packing so much icing sugar, pastry and syrup; the fragrance of orange blossom and rose water muddle with the toasty scent of nuts and honey.
At the back of the shop, a meat counter is stuffed with fresh and cured meats. There’s spicy Turkish sujuk, a sausage that is excellent with scrambled eggs and too much fluffy bread.
A display cabinet is piled with white cheeses, some for crumbling or stuffing into hollowed out vegetables, others for frying or grilling. A salad counter displays tubs of freshly made meze: tabbouleh, baba ganoush, hummus, stuffed vine leaves and artichokes.
A tiny lady called Mrs. Hiyam has nurtured this once-small shop for twenty-seven years. She was born to Lebanese parents in Ghana, but now struggles to identify herself either as African, Lebanese or British.
She clearly has high standards, grabbing staff members, pointing out jobs here and there. This fastidiousness may be the secret to the success of Green Valley, which has a lot of competition from other shops on The Edgware Road, all selling similar ingredients. “They all want to be like us,” she says with a wide smile.