Custard Apples and Spherical Gluten: Exploring Mill Road

PART 1 of The Tab’s Alt-Guide to Cambridge (for those who are too eDgY for Stickybeaks)

Cambridge Cambridge University food international Mill Road shopping Student

I’d say Mill Road was a hidden gem, but it’s really not that hidden.

It’s okay, I get it; I find myself moaning about how it’s so far to walk the 3 minutes to Sainsbury’s Local for a packet of ham. A 15-minute walk to lectures is a personal affront. But Mill Road is genuinely worth the walk. This is arguably the best street in Cambridge (and I have sources: it’s officially one of the best streets in the UK and has gained a blog) and is just a minute away from Parker’s Piece, but it remains weirdly obscure among Cantabs.

So I’m setting the first instalment of our Alt-Guide to Cambridge here, because people give me weird looks if I go on 5-minute hipster diatribes in person about how buying fruit in Sainsbury’s is a terrible idea and Look There’s This Place You Can Get Pink Ladies Big Enough to Hide Your Problems In.

Pictured: Sainsbury’s apples. Not pictured: my disappointed face.

The Mill Road International Supermarkets are the best reason to go. If you cook, or you would like to cook food better than hall (Pembroke students: good luck with that), Mill Road is a gift from the culinary gods.

Nip In, Mill Road International Supermarket and Spice Gate are packed to the rafters with spiced, dried, canned and jarred goods, and a magnificent variety of foreign foods, particularly Japanese in Ocean Supermarket or Li Ming and Turkish & Middle Eastern in Spice Gate.

Bonus points if you can spot my favourite discovery in Ocean Supermarket, ‘Fried Round Gluten’. It’s fried batter spheres, and also what I’m calling my new band.

These are sausages. Many sausages. Journalistic integrity prevents me from commenting further.

Shenjin fruit, plantains and custard apples? Check. Lost the will to live after a dose of week 5 blues? Don’t drown your sorrows in some pedestrian Marylands – go to Spice Gate and grab their variety baklava, or a TopKek hazelnut cake (yes, really. They’re 25p, and as delicious as they are anachronistic).

Want to jazz up your predrinks? Nip In’s alcohol range is unparalleled (apparently toffee apple Sourz exists!). Drinking society initiations? Ocean Supermarket’s sliced jellyfish opens a world of possibilities.

This apple sack was £1 #how’dyoulikethemapples

And if you don’t care about being able to access ten different kinds of dried bean (and if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you and your apathetic life), at least care about the money – almost all food costs less in Mill Road. Unless, like me, you get rather excited and stock your cupboard with Sriracha and green tea KitKats.

That reminds me; you can buy Sriracha there. What more reason do you need?

Straight from the bodily secretions of the gods

Like clothes? Don’t like clothes, but have to wear them because apparently there’s a felony charge against public nudity? Mill Road’s charity shops are huge and extensive, with the Salvation Army and YMCA deserving particular shout-outs. You will intend to go in for an hour and then Never Leave. Plus, there’s an Amnesty bookshop on the way to encourage further philanthropy.

Shopping and carrying are both thirsty (and hungry) work, and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to have a stop in, from the gorgeous record-shop-cum-café Relevant Record to artisan deli-café Urban Larder and sure-it’s-a-steakhouse-but-it’s-not-much-more-expensive-than-Wagamamas-and-let’s-face-it-Wagamamas-is-usually-a-disappointment Rocker’s Steakhouse. They have a Subway, too, and it’s bigger and has more plugs than its Emmanuel Street cousin.

The Rocker’s Steakhouse burger challenge: eat it all and you get it free

Let’s face it, people; Cambridge centre is good, but it’s vanilla. If you can jog from one Pret to another in less than a minute, it’s probably not a diverse town. And damn it, we work hard enough, we deserve to be able to buy actual macaroni for mac ‘n’ cheese.

Let us end the sovereignty of Mainsbury’s. I’m going to buy some garam masala, black sesame ice cream and rice noodles, and I’m going to walk there in my £6 YMCA cowboy boots.

Who’s with me?