Traditional Caribbean and Asian produce like guava, Sri Lankan mango and Jamaican avocado reminds me of my childhood - I grew up in a multicultural populated area, and such foods were in abundance. These days however, living in the city it is near-impossible to find such produce at purse-friendly prices, and of the same calibre that I have been used to.
Until recently I had to travel quite far to find elusive groceries, (at least 10 miles), but family-run greengrocers McCalls small, (but mighty) market of a 'shop' has saved me a trip. In the middle of Manchester city centre you'll find the jewels of Arabia and familiar produce of the Caribbean.
They've been trading on Church Street for three generations, and stock all of the 'normal' fruit and vegetables: carrots, leeks, cabbage, potatoes, apples, bananas, and oranges, but also the less-familiar produce that you might have been searching for.
What's wonderful is that they sell high-quality produce at low prices. The avocados are my favourite. They sell hass avocados from 80p for a medium size, but the Caribbean ones have my heart. Large, fresh and creamy, I have only had these types of avocado abroad, and they are seriously good.
I am always sceptical of markets that promise good food for a suspiciously low price, but I can assure you, every piece of fruit or vegetable I have bought has been perfect.
McCalls even specialise in varieties of peaches and nectarines, such as 'doughnut' peaches, which come in normal and 'extra large' sizes. Thankfully, the oversized stone fruits are large due to attentive, local farming (not pesticides), and the doughnut variety are just as good as the standard shaped ones.
Variety of stone fruits
They sell their produce at varieties of ripeness, from tender to the touch peaches, to the firm nectarines, you can buy food ready to eat, and a batch that will ripen over the week.
It's not just fruit and vegetables that have turned me into a loyal customer. McCalls sell tinned ackee, callaloo, packaged salt fish, mackerel, fufu flour and Tropical Sun seasonings. Seeing such things inspire joy, as these are foods that are in my Nan's cupboard. They even sell Bigga Juice, Supermalt and KA. For me, McCalls is like stepping into an outdoor version of my grandmother's kitchen.
The more tropical produce includes packaged Asian seasoning, rubs, beans and grains. Basmati brown and white rice is sold in packs as large as 1kg, as well as pudding rice grains.
While the imported produce tickles my fancy McCalls also use local farmers for the majority of their British produce, which means they get garden-fresh goods. For example amongst the beetroot and swede I found what appeared to be white carrots. They were in fact season-young turnips.
There is nowhere else in Manchester where you can buy fresh exotic produce, at the prices they do there, McCalls is an absolute find, and I'm delighted I found it. Now you know where it is, and what's inside, you'd be missing a trick (and wasting money), by not visiting at least once.
It's only a small shop, but they have plenty of stock, and it can get busy. Because of it's less-than formal layout, moving around is a bit tricky when its full, but keep your distance and put what you want in your basket and you'll be sweet. Make sure, however, to bring cash because they operate like a market. If you forget and only have plastic, there is a cash machine about a 30 second walk up the road, however.
High quality, fresh produce is hard enough to find, so when you stumble upon such goods and throw in dirt-cheap prices and it's a winning combination. The staff are lovely too - if you are genuinely two or three pence short of what you need to pay, they'll offer you to come back with the rest when you return the next time, or waive it and let you have what you're struggling to make up the change for.
Friendly, local and honest staff are what make McCalls work. Of the three workers I've met they all know where the produce comes from, and will tell you of delivery dates so you know what's fresh. Countless times they've recommended one bunch of bananas over the other, and will identify the freshest, or most ripe. It's this that's makes McCalls my supermarket replacement, with its market-stall quality that I find terribly endearing. Great people make a good shop fantastic, and with that, I'm off to buy groceries.