As someone who really loves cooking, I never really had a problem finding the ingredients that I needed in Norwich.
Until I went to a cookery school in Thailand. There I learned to make proper Thai food including spring rolls, penang curry and coconut rice.
Obviously I wanted to try to make my own back in Blighty, but I couldn’t help thinking that I wouldn’t be able to make pad thai or green curry properly because I wouldn’t be able to get the right ingredients back here.
And while I knew that I could get lemongrass in most supermarkets, where would on earth could I get kaffir lime leaves in Norwich? Thai aubergines? Holy basil? Or fish sauce?
About a week after landing back in the UK, I started to get an itch for tom kha gai (spicy coconut soup with chicken) and tom yum (spicy clear soup) soup and decided to take matters into my own hands. After asking around a few places, I got recommendations for a cash and carry out on the ring road and a stall on Norwich Market.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Oriental Express is a treasure trove of exotic foods, spices and fresh vegetables. Their two market stalls (side by side) momentarily transports me back to the food market in Chiang Mai, with its smells and colours – but less of the sunshine.
I can honestly spend ages poring over the different premixed soup bases, the curry pastes, the spices and the snacks. I never thought I’d see tamarind sweets in Norwich!
Quality and service
The tins of coconut milk are cheaper there than in the supermarkets (I think – I’ve bought most of my coconut milk on the market since arriving back home), the pastes are excellent value for money (go easy on them, they’re very spicy) and the herbs and vegetables all seem very fresh.
But the best thing about going to Oriental Express is their advice. I always find that if I’m not sure of anything, that they can answer questions or suggest ingredients that can be substituted into dishes. They’ll even sometimes give you a rough idea of the quantities that you’ll need too. It’s honestly invaluable when you’ve gone out and forgotten to check the recipe (which is nearly every time I go out).
Even if you’ve never cooked Thai food before, I recommend you go and take a look. There are loads of fun things to try, including Thai tea, aloe vera water, coconut water and sweets. It’s a culinary adventure I defy you to enjoy!