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Food&Drink: A fresh taste of the Orient.

Byline: By Paul Fulford

IT'S a Monday morning and Birmingham's Indoor Market is quiet. Many stalls are closed and few are busy.

Except for one section where a steady stream of Oriental customers are busy buying foods that to Western eyes are largely mysterious. The China Mini Market is a labour of love for its owner Sue Wong, a stallholder for five years. Her progression into the fruit and veg trade isn't that surprising - her mum and dad own a long-established Chinese takea-way in Hall Green and her in-laws run a nursery in Evesham growing Oriental specialities such as bok choi. As customers look through the fresh, packaged and tinned products on her stall, Sue explains why it's so busy on what is traditionally the market's quietest shopping day. "It's because many Chinese takeaways and restaurants are closed on Mondays," she says.

"So we have families coming to shop on their day off." Behind her stands an array of vivid emerald leaves, greens beans that must be nearly a metre long, gnarled roots, lilac flowers, exotic fruits, strange mushrooms and aubergines that range from bright green dots little larger than a pea to long purple ones. Sue, 34, is a keen cook and her passion for food is obvious as she begins to describe the produce she sells.

"The whole point is that I have to believe in what I'm selling," she says.

"I will only sell things that I would want to cook. It has to be good quality."

She picks up a pack of long, elegant Chinese flower chives, sniffs them and explains that they add fabulous flavour to dumplings.

Alongside lie bundles of almost yellow king chives, again used to flavour dumplings or to garnish egg dishes.

Extravagantly long snake beans are great in stir fries - especially with mushrooms and seafood, says Sue. Nearby nestles a box of eddoe - hard-skinned and dull brown globes that, peeled and boiled, are a little like potatoes.

There are fresh tamarinds, mange tout leaves, galangale, sour mango and durian - large, heavy and viciously spiked fruits with a pungent smell but subtle taste.

And the wonders do not stop there.

A few yards away stands Global Produce - another stall owned by Sue but one which stocks less common European fruit, vegetables and herbs such as purple potatoes, samphire, globe and Jerusalem artichokes.

Sue is happy to chat with customers to suggest - and learn - ways to prepare the produce.

"One customer told me to grate celeriac into mashed potatoes and it's fantastic," she adds.

Or, she suggests, try samphire fried with savoy cabbage.

She says that some ingredients become popular when they are used by television chefs so she tries to keep up to date with the trends.

Sue accepts that she can never compete with supermarket prices so instead, she explains, she has decided to offer variety.

Looking round the shelves, it's clear that she's doing just that.

Sue's stalls are located in the Bull Ring Indoor Market. Opening hours of the market: Monday - Saturday 9am-5.30pm.

CAPTION(S):

PRODUCE... Sue Wong with her labour of love The China Mini Market. Below: Durian fruit. Photo ref: PT170308wong-2
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Mar 20, 2008
Words:525
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