Sacha Harrison meets the family at Nour Cash and Carry
“Guess how much?” I say, grinning and holding up a jar of honey, a whole honeycomb bobbing around in the oozing gold liquid.
Husband looks deflated. “Fifteen quid? Why do you insist on sending us broke?” He’s wrong. It was £2.49. I hate to make him squirm but it’s my favourite game.
Apparently, it’s one of Saja Shaheen’s favourite games too. Though as an integral member of the family business, Nour Cash & Carry, she is far more of a dab hand than I at spotting a bargain.
Nour, a labyrinthine treasure trove of middle eastern foods is a retail Tardis, sitting in Market Row with another entrance on Electric Avenue, a deceptively unassuming gateway to a smug-worthy lexicon of everyday and out of the ordinary pantry fodder. Stacked high.
Aside from fresh fruit and veg (minus the unnecessary plastic), you can stock up on huge vats of yoghurt, every tea imaginable, industrial-sized cans of extra virgin olive oil and row upon row of exotic spices. It’s Wholefoods without the eye watering prices, for real people. An Aladdin’s cave but with genie-like staff who can effortlessly locate the pink Himalayan salt – second row, bottom shelf, underneath the gungo peas to be precise.
“Coconut oil, who knew?” Saja says. “Before it was coconut creams, but it’s massive now, so we’ve had to adapt.”
Saja refers to those specialist ingredients found in Ottolenghi recipes like rose petal water, za’atar and barberries (her favourite).
They’re essential to Middle Eastern cooking but hard to find and infuriatingly expensive. While shops in the West End price orange blossom water at £7 or so, Nour sell it for £1.79. I also spy ghee used in most of the Hemsley and Hemsley recipes. It’s £7.99 for a tub the size of my head.
Nour opened about 18 years ago and is run by the Shaheen family who were kicked out of Saddam’s Iraq – Saja who studied history and politics at Goldsmiths, her sister Nour, who went to law school, her mother and father, and her younger sister, Sam who also worked at Nour. At Christmas, their family ritual involves clearing their schedule and working until the wee hours stocking and working the tills. But I sense that they love it.
Nour sees a huge amount of trade, from supplying Brixton’s restaurants in the morning to catering to the post-work clientele in the early evening. Brixton foodies and local chefs love it.
When I ask Saja why Brixton is so special, she answers: “It’s all about community. You can go anywhere in the world to buy good food, but the feeling in Brixton is unique. Customers just come in, so we know lots of people.”
As she says this, she waves at a friendly looking man entering the shop. “I’m 31 now and they’ve known me since I was that high.” She points to her knee which I can assume means a very young age.
“Sometimes they come in just to have a chat. You can’t just wander into Tesco for a bunch of coriander and end up talking for half an hour.”
For those who don’t have time to chat for half an hour, Nour is open from 7am to 7pm so it’s an easy dash in and out if you work nine-to-five. But it’s best enjoyed when you have time to peruse the shelves – much more fun than absentmindedly clicking Ocado or slumming the queues at Sainsbury’s.
23 Market Row, SW9 8LD