Venture past Parker's Piece to level up your food cupboardLouis Ashworth for Varsity

Don’t get me wrong, I love a bag of courgettes. Or even, if I’m feeling totally insane, a sweet and pointy “Taste the Difference” pepper. Sainsbury’s staples have served me well so far, but let’s not kid ourselves and pretend they’re the coolest – or the cheapest – produce in town. There are only so many variations on ′pasta alla can of tomatoes’ I can whip up, and only so many tourists I can fend off with my stonebaked baguette as I shimmy on back to college. After a while, I can’t help but hunger for a shopping experience that is something more.

Eating food is exciting, and shopping for it can be too! There’s no better time to break out of central Cambridge than Easter Term, when the afternoons are warm and Parker’s Piece is shiny and green. On Mill Road, you’ll find a full, bustling mile of tasty treats – veggies of all shapes and sizes, and spices and seasonings to put the Sainsbury’s ‘World Foods’ aisle to shame.

Here are just six of my recent Mill Road finds, as well as a couple of recipe ideas to go along with them. Bring your friends, your partner, your secret crush. It is going to be a grocery run like no other.

Kohlrabi (Brothers International Supermarket)

This morning, my friend walked into our kitchen and saw me furiously skinning a vegetable which he had never seen before. “Is it a shrunken cabbage?” he asked. “Or a really fat apple?” In fact, the big, gnarly orb I had perched on my chopping board was a kohlrabi – a cultivated form of wild cabbage, brother to broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. We cut ourselves a few pieces and found it tasted a lot like radish – tingly, crisp, and slightly sweet. “Huh. Refreshing,” my friend decreed.

You can use kohlrabi much the same way you would use any other hard vegetable. I had homemade ssamjang – a spicy Korean dipping sauce – in the fridge, so I dunked a big chunk in that. The rest of the kolhrabi I sliced into thin matchsticks and tossed with red pepper flakes, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and sesame seeds to make a quick Korean salad. The salad will keep in the fridge for ages – pair it with fried tofu or a rolled omelette and take it to Sidge in a lunchbox.

Leo's recipe: Kolhrabi, dipped in ssamjang and marinated as a salad Leo Kang with permission for Varsity

Soybean Lao Gan Ma (Cho Mee Supermarket)

Ah, Lao Gan Ma. For decades, this brand has been cranking out what I can only describe as the crack cocaine of chilli oils. My college wife once smuggled a jar of it into formal and poured it all over her pork and potatoes. But there is one variety I just can’t get enough of – that is, the fermented soybeans in chilli oil. While Lao Gan Ma is generally treated as a topping, this chilli oil stands its ground as an ingredient in itself. The soybeans pack a ferocious umami punch – particularly good for meatless meals. Try adding it to the pan when you’re sautéing mushrooms or frying egg-fried rice.

Lao Gan Ma -- "the crack cocaine of chilli oils"Leo Kang with permission for Varsity

San Marzano Tomatoes (Brothers International Supermarket)

I’ll level with you. We bought six of these bad boys, and we ate them all on the walk back. That’s right – we bit into them like apples. They did not survive us. Munch munch!

Just a Handful of Spinach (Brothers International Supermarket)

No, no – not the spinach you see in salad packets. I’m talking about real spinach, unapologetic spinach, spinach that stinks of ground. Spinach as a whole honking plant, not just a dainty little leaf. I blanched it in boiling water, squeezed it into a ball, and marinated it in minced garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. This is a Korean side dish called spinach namul, and it really is delicious. The earthiness of the sesame allows the spinach’s natural flavours to shine. I could eat it with every meal.

"Real spinach, unapologetic spinach"Leo Kang with permission for Varsity

Organic Red Pumpkins (Arjuna Wholefoods)

Cor! Look at these little critters. I didn’t dare buy them – it doesn’t feel like the season – but I just wanted to take a moment to admire them. What handsome shapes and hypnotic textures. I’ll be back for them in October.

Graffiti Eggplant (Brothers International Supermarket)

"If this vegetable isn’t your thing, we simply can never be friends"Leo Kang with permission for Varsity

I have no empirical evidence that ‘graffiti eggplant’ tastes any better than your standard Sainsbury’s aubergine. But boy if it isn’t beautiful! Aubergine is one of my favourite veggies, and what’s not to love about this variety – it’s about the same price as a normal aubergine, but its skin is bright violet, scuffed artfully with streaks of white.


Mountain View

Smashed cucumber salad and rice with (elevated) scrambled eggs

You can slice it and flash fry it with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, and chilli bean paste for a twist on a classic Sichuan-style aubergine. Or, you can cut it up and stew it with spices until the aubergine’s flesh turns tender and jammy. I like to stir in harissa and ras el hanout for lively, North African flavours. If this vegetable isn’t your thing, we simply can never be friends.