It’s 11.45am on a Tuesday in March and I’ve just come back to Portobello after moving some things into a Brentford storage unit.
Heavy work, so you’d think a full English carb fest was on my mind. Not so, here’s why…
…So, we get to the door of the Electric Diner on Portobello Road, only to be greeted by our regular (Antonio Banderas looking) waiter. I may have appeared a bit rude as I zipped past him fully aware of the clock ticking away on our 50% local discount deal as it fast approached 12.00. I rushed past into the ready and waiting waitress. “Will you still honour the discount as it’s not yet 12 O’ clock”? I said in a half couldn’t care less way, without revealing the fact that her answer was a remote control to push an invisible button to send me away or make me stay, just like a puppet”. ” If you order before 12.00 it’ll be fine”. She said. You’ve never seen a person sit down so quickly.
It was about 11:52 when my guest: sweet Juliet ordered her poached eggs on toast with avocado and a bit a lemon on the side, accompanied by a pot of mint tea to kill the chill. Note below, the avocado’s succulence. Continue reading →
While I have a genuine interest in my diet, I must admit sometimes it can become a little overwhelming remembering what is sustenance and what is poison. Case in point; The empty packet of Amaizin corn chips that lay on my kitchen table. Although they were organic, they had me looking at them with suspicion like a cheating spouse.
I wondered if the corn was pure. Was she true? Did she lie by omission, telling me only part of where she had been in the hope that I wouldn’t cross-examine? Maybe I’ve lost faith, most things that tasted that good were always too good to be true. I needed to know more about corn. What I did know is that corn and soy are the easiest consumable substances…
Urban Dandy would like to bring to your attention the loss of a beloved community member. Stand 52 is not really what you would have in mind when asking for a half a pound a grapes but if you are from the area you would have used stand 52 many times.
Tommy from stand 52 Portobello Market, for some is Portobello Market, having supplied us with fresh fruit and veg for years. I can say from experience that he was one of the faces that you got used to seeing every morning on the corner of Portobello Road and Blenheim Crescent, arranging that lovely coloured nutrition in delicious order offering to quench your thirst and satisfy your body’s need for vitamins and minerals.
It’s interesting that with all the supermarkets popping up here there and everywhere, the question of local loyalty is underlined. I must admit within my own experience there is some guilt as I have a very specialized diet for health reasons, but that said I do what I can where I can and would only hope that most like myself will be also sad to see the end of a Portobello market legend.
Here is a man that took only two weeks off work each year. This is a very rare form of dedication. As noble as this may be, sadly it took the dreaded cancer to force a year’s break from the market.
In a brief conversation with Maureen, Tommy’s wife, I learned that his dedication and commitment to us as customers went way beyond Portobello Market and into his own domestic environment as when the question of marriage occurred Tommy was reluctant to take time off on a Saturday, so we should all feel privileged standing in the way of their wedding vows.
Portobello Market is made up of some tremendous locals just like Tommy who really tend to smile through everything they face including the decrease in turnover based on their goliath super-chain competitors, yet they continue.
Even those who didn’t know you knew your presence, work and commitment. On behalf of the family, extended family and every other market trader we say Rest In Peace Tommy Kane.
“There’s something weird about mushrooms, there’s something weird about Portobello…I fit in”
Just a stone’s throw from Portobello’s Tesco is a stall at the other end of the food spectrum: honest, healthy, community-minded and with a genuine passion for nourishment, flavour and creative cooking, Tom James Dean’s mushroom stall.
Tom, sometimes known as Mushroom Man, welcomes the hordes of Portobello tourists with their cameras (for fb, tw and inst) each week in what is definitely a labour of love. He probably gets a fair number of people like me stopping by too, who know that mushrooms are good for you, and, well, that’s about the extent of our understanding…
Tesco (and the rest, but we’ll pick on them) sell low quality mushrooms, covered in plastic. This maintains the consistent appearance and size of the mushrooms, but not their health benefits or taste. Mushrooms should shrink; Tesco mushrooms might look good (as mushrooms go), “but in reality they’re rotting away” says Tom.
Tom uses breathable plastic and brown paper bags, so the mushrooms don’t go mouldy and don’t dry out. He’s also cheaper than Tesco, offers “more flavour” and “more benefit”. His mushrooms are also of a far wider and wilder variety…
So, what are the benefits of buying from an expert seller like Tom?
“First of all I buy from South Korea, which is known to treat their mushroom workers much better. They also grow their mushrooms in sterile conditions, in labs”.
While Tom says he occasionally comes across “mushroom hobbyists” selling at Farmers’ Markets, none of the organic farms in the UK grow their own mushrooms, and instead they get them from buyers, the same buyers as Waitrose and the other chains. This is contributing to the emergence of monopolies of sellers and supermarkets and causing smaller farmers to go bust. Tom James Dean works with experts from “all over the world,” in whom he has gained trust, including Indigo Herbs in Glastonbury, knowing that his partners have a genuine interest in what they eat, and are conscious of environmental issues.
Most obviously of all, “mushrooms are an ideal substitute for meat, so we can create a sustainable planet…a lot of sensible vegetarians simply change from meat to mushrooms.” Meat is murder and recent revelations have shown that not even religious slaughter is exempt from the horrors of the industry, no matter how piously packaged.
Oyster mushrooms, with their bland taste may not be a favourite of the veggie community, but check this out: “they clear up landfills and oil spills…a tough mushroom”.
Mushrooms absorb heavy metals, so Tom advises not to pick them in or around London. And, expert advice should always be sought when picking your own shrooms. Even in remoter areas of Wales and Scotland, picking wild mushrooms can be a health hazard, as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident hit those countries more than it did Romania, and mushrooms absorb radiation.
For all us amateurs out there, it’s best to look at mushrooms the same way we look at berries. “You have blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries that we are familiar with, then there are other berries that look good but would kill you in the most horrible, painful way. Mushrooms are the same.”
Says Tom: “the Asians are the best with Mushroom study, they believe they can create longevity. They have had evidence that proves that certain mushrooms can stop your DNA from unwinding, particularly mushrooms such as Cordyceps, Reishi and Shiitaki. With Cordyceps they have had breakthroughs in cancer research and have successfully reduced cancerous cells. Psilocybincan ease depression and relieve headaches for six months. Chaga mushrooms are used in Russia for stomach disorders”.
“Another Russian favourite is Chanterelle, it’s a wild mushroom that we also call Foxes mushroom, they eat it raw although I would never eat mushrooms raw. I just cook them with a bit of butter. That one is probably my favourite, and it’s also known for its anti-cancer properties.”
Here’s a brief outline of a few benefits of a few of Tom’s favourite mushrooms:
Sun drying with the gills up allows the mushroom to absorb six times the level of Vitamin D, which boosts the immune system, mood and much more
“If somebody had suffered extreme exposure to radiation I would have them lay in a field of shiitake mushrooms to see if it draws it out. Hey you never know”
A fungus that grows on the bark of trees, in Russia this mushroom is prescribed for digestive disorders
Very expensive and tightly guarded, with one Russian tree having two armed guards of its own
Good for anxiety
Cancer, immune system and fertility benefits
“If I found out I had cancer I would eat loads of Reishi and loads of Cordyceps. I’ve seen some significant improvement in my immune system from eating them every morning. I boil them in water in the morning. They say it boosts fertility. The first time I took Cordyceps my girlfriend was pregnant within a week.”
Aka Magic Mushrooms
Legal trade in the UK shut down in 2005, but in 2015 the benefits of psychoactives are being studied again
Can open up the floodgates of memories, both good and bad, so can help people to move on
Being used in trials for easing post-traumatic stress disorder
Can treat severe headaches, including cluster headaches
While the trade has been passed down from his father, Tom says his dad was a business man, first and foremost, having started importing mushrooms in 1967. Tom, though, is partly led by sound business practice, and partly by spiritual and ethical concerns, which he inherited from his mother, somebody who fed him on home grown food, “straight from the ground.” How refreshing to see this mix at work, right outside Tesco. Did we mention them already?
And as he tells UDL about his parents, we can see that he’s an exact cross between both. Like his father, he has no time for quackery, he wants proof. But when he has the proof, he’s not shy about talking about it. Good news and good health are to be shared.
In the middle of the Little Babylon that is Portobello Road, Tom’s stall is well worth a visit. It has a mysterious feel; Eastern, Western and from the places where we daren’t explore, these strange looking foods, grisly and grimy, contain a wealth of life-enhancing benefits.
They’re weird. He says he’s weird. I don’t believe him, he’s really an enthusiast and a fountain of information. Courted by corporations, thinking about writing his first book, and keeping Portobello fresh, Tom James Dean, on the corner of Portobello and Westbourne Park Roads, is ready to share his passion with you, to educate you and to bring some well-being in to your life.
In our times and in our North Kensington, this mushroom expert is an urban sage for our age.