Food From The Rye: Khan’s Bargain Ltd.

April 8, 2010


Khan's Bargain Ltd.

Khan’s Bargain Ltd. is my favourite shop in Peckham. It’s hard to know where to start with telling you about it but I think Khan puts it rather nicely with the hilarious tag line ‘walk in and see the variety’. This is not a joke. There’s a lot of stuff in that shop, much of it in random order and some of it, well…put it this way, I didn’t even have the nerve to set foot in the back aisles until my fourth or fifth visit.

The front of shop is stacked pretty much like any on Rye Lane; you’ll find the usual out of season pumpkin and tomatoes, plenty of sugar cane and of course yams, yams and more yams. What Khan’s does best though is monstrous bunches of herbs; mild Turkish peppers; melons; chillies; citrus fruits; curry leaves and those little cucumbers which are great for making Sichuan cucumber salads and the Ottolenghi recipe at the end of this post. You’ll also find packages of garlic, onions and ginger for 50p a pop. A bargain even if the onions do always contain, without fail, one rotten specimen.

Once you’ve selected your vegetables, I do think this is the best vantage point for appreciating what is undoubtedly the largest amount of strip lighting I’ve seen in one room outside of a Dan Flavin exhibition. Not quite the same skilled arrangement but much more on the comedy value side of things. The photo above shows the tip of the iceberg.

Once inside you’ll find that if Khan’s sells something, you can bet your bitter melon they sell a fair few different types of it and this is what makes me giggle. Pickles for example, take up an entire side of one aisle, including part of the floor. As a pickle enthusiast, I’m in heaven. Pickled garlic, cucumbers, limes, mushrooms and even tomatoes come in giant-friendly tubs. The garlic I see myself eating; the unidentifiable rainbow chippings described as ‘classic vegetable medley’ not so much.

The beany/grainy/flour section is nothing less than overwhelming. Lentils, pulses and grains in their whole and pounded form stacked before you like some kind of dusty desert coloured monster from The Mummy. Cow peas; moth beans; gungo peas; soya beans; red mullet beans; Nigerian brown beans; hominy grits; yam flour; bean flour and ground rice, which is even available in 10kg bags.

The spice selection (find them in the ‘luggage and pet food aisle’) has never let me down. Dried limes, Irish moss, dried round chillies and sugar coated fennel seeds. Need a 1.5kg bag of cassia bark? Khan’s have got one, I’ve seen it.

I think you’re starting to get the idea – Khan’s takes a comprehensive approach to stocking an item. One type of Bombay Mix is enough? Never – let’s have ten. One brand of palm oil? One blend of jerk seasoning? One type of er, plastic animal? No, no, no.

But I’m touching on the brilliant madness of the place before I’ve finished telling you about the stuff you might actually want to buy. There’s a rather useful cookery section where I recently bought a tava, which turned out some decent chapattis and will be turning out some parathas later this week. Four quid – bargain. There’s a dried fruit and nut section which I frequent (along with Persepolis) to buy those chewy little Iranian dried figs that are so addictive, plus dried coconut halves and date syrup. From the canned section I buy fairly normal stuff like tahini and coconut milk but always flirt with the idea of the hugely tempting ‘strained foul’ which I’ve been informed by many on Twitter is strained broad beans and a popular Middle Eastern breakfast dish. I’m not sure this canned version is a good place to start…although at 69p – bargain.

The further you go towards the back of the shop, the further things descend into chaos. The ‘party aisle’ for example, is filled with socks. Random strings of tinsel dangle bunches of fake flowers from the ceiling; a corner section is given over to rugs; stock is strewn all over the floor as they constantly rearrange and refill.

For a while, I did wonder if venturing ‘out back’ would lead me to a gateway into some sort of Peckham Narnia; a strange, magical land where Khan is King and drives his chariot of variety down a great river of yams. I was rather disappointed to find just a selection (a large one, naturally) of brushes, plastic laundry baskets and a tower of Super Malt, which appears to be holding up part of the ceiling.

I love Khan’s for many reasons; one is that I can usually track down hard to find ingredients – particularly pulses and spices – another is that everything is really cheap. The food police will be onto me soon I expect; most of the produce has air miles – I know this – but at least I’m supporting a local business.

What I really love about the place though is the way it brings a smile to my face so often. It has a ramshackle charm and a strange serenity about it, which I suspect comes from a kind of strip-light induced stupor. From the bustling front claiming its territory on Rye Lane to the shambles out back it is always, to me at least (and perhaps only to me), fascinating and utterly charming.

Ottolenghi’s Cucumber and Poppy Seed Salad (from ‘Ottolenghi, The Cookbook’)

6 small, Middle Eastern cucumbers (about 500g)
2 mild red chillies, thinly sliced
60ml white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons roughly chopped coriander
125ml sunflower oil
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons caster sugar
salt and pepper

Trim the ends off the cucumbers and slice them at an angle into 1cm thick pieces that are 3-4 cms long. Then you just mix everything together, massaging the flavours into the cukes. Adjust the amounts of sugar and salt to your taste. Ottolenghi says this should be sharp and sweet, “almost like a pickle.”

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    Reply shayma April 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    beautiful salad (gorgeous photo)! and Khan’s looks amazing. it’s a little bit of Pakistan in Peckham, isnt it? Sweet fennel- it was the sweety my grandmum always had in her purse in little plastic packets with a treat inside- a plastic watch or a small ring. you’ve taken beautiful photos of this place- i’d love to visit and buy some of those Nigerian beans. do try the vegetable medley pickle, i promise you’ll love it. or maybe mango kasaundi by Ahmed’s or Patak’s. x shayma

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    Reply Chris April 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Brilliant stuff.

    What is Supermalt anyway?

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    Reply Helen April 12, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Shayma – Thanks! I love a mixed vegetable pickle, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that this one is the most orrible, cheapest version I’ve seen. Lovely to hear your story about the sweet fennel – I must try it!

    Chris – It’s a malt flavoured drink – non alcoholic. Very popular around these parts.

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    Reply Sharmila April 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Good old Khans. You’re right – you can find anything there. On a couple of occasions I’ve even found some cute kittens to play with (let’s just ignore the hygiene issues).

    On the art front, the strip lighting is probably only trumped by the almost pop art display of ordered, coloured tins in Big Girl over the road.

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    Reply Lizzie April 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Supermalt is absolutely DISGUSTING. The people of New Cross love it.

    Khan’s is a brilliant shop – I’ve only been in once to pick up some tinda and I was utterly overwhelmed.

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    Reply Helen April 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Sharmila – I might have to do a post about Big Girl one day. The fact that they are always still pumping out music at 11pm makes me happy. I now feel cheated that I have not come across the kittens!

    Lizzie – We’ve found someone who has tasted the malt! Does it taste like cold Horlicks? Horlicks makes me want to hurl.

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    Reply Carla April 12, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    I so love shops like this!

    My corner shop used to be like Khan’s little brother until management changed and all interesting produce has gone. Meh 🙁

    Long live “variety” shops!

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    Reply Nora April 12, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    I love that type of shop – especially if they sell pickled garlic, yum! (It particularly hits the spot if you’ve been drinking I find, for some reason.) Did they spot you taking pictures? Must have thought you were a bit mad, if so! 😀

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    Reply Niamh April 12, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Lol re: foul. I love it – one of my favourite things. Foul Moudammes | Ful Medames etc. Like dal in that there’s many ways to spell it. I would avoid the tinned though. Get some in a lebanese or egyptian restaurant (with the eggs cooked with the beans!), or make it at home.

    I love shops like this, we have a wealth of them on Green Lanes too.

    The salad looks great – I’ve not noticed that one in my Ottolenghi book before!

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    Reply elisavet Sotiriadou April 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    I’ve passed by this place! I know where to go now in case I need sth I cannot find elsewhere!


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    Reply Helen April 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Carla – Oh no! That is just not on now is it? Long live the variety!

    Nora – Yeah I keep meaning to try it. Thai’s eat it with their curries, don’t they?

    Niamh – I know – SO funny. I had no idea what it was when I first looked at it and the spelling just made me laugh. I think avoiding the tinned is definitely a good idea… Definitely check out that salad in the Ottolenghi book – so lovely and fresh.

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    Reply Helen April 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Elisavet – definitely worth a look – the variety! Walk in and see it!

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    Reply Jess April 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Supermalt and Nurishment, where would we be without them?

    This place reminds me of so many I knew and loved in Birmingham, as well as some of Greenlanes and Brixton – totally different cultures and yet still the same brilliance. Oli’s Food Store on Walworth Road is a good’un, a whole corner of canned or jarred tomatoes.

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    Reply Helen April 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Jess – I love it. Everyone has their own Khan’s. I absolutely love Brixton too – tempted to move there but not for a good few years yet! A whole corner of canned or uncanned tomatoes. Because you just never know which type you might need next.

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    Reply Sarah April 12, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    this is the kind of food store I like, lots of surprises

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    Reply Kat April 12, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    We have a similar store but not nearly as big (or as well named). I suddenly feel the urge to visit them tomorrow!

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    Reply Anne April 12, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Shall have to pop over to Khans now you’ve written about it as I want to buy a Tava, I shall be avoiding the SuperMalt though – the smell of it makes me gag! I love shops like this where you can get a mountain of chills for the price of 4 in Sainsburys!

    I’m hoping to spot kittens there as well!

    Does Big Girl still exist? I thought it’d gone? I remember the giant bra in there – used to get many an odd bloke wandering in and having a pervvy feel of it!

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    Reply Helen April 12, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    I LOVE shops like Khan’s – it appears to be an amalgamation of all the shops on the North End Road – food and homewares alike. I enjoy going to all of them. The North End Road also has its wonderful market which I go to several times a week.

    I also use lots of TRS products – most of my spices and lots of lentils.

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    Reply Manne April 13, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Peckham Narnia! You crack me up. 😉

    Now that I checked out all the photos I know which shop it is, and you’re right. Bonkers and fascinating.

    // Manne

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    Reply Helen April 13, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Sarah – Oh yeah, it’s got surprises all right and plenty of em.

    Kat – I know, that tagline…genius!

    Anne – Yeah exactly. And mostly when I buy chillies along with other stuff he doesn’t even bother charging me for them. Big Girl is definitely still there, although I’ve never seen a giant bra!!

    Helen – I’m really enjoying how everyone is feeling the love for these shops. They might not look pretty, but they got the goods and the personality.

    Manne – I swear I thought there would be a Peckham Narnia at the back of that shop 😉 Bonkers indeed. Maybe see you in there one day!

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    Reply BP April 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    There are lots of shops like this in Brixton Market too (Nour Cash & Carry ?). Amazing ingrediants from all around the world that remind me of places I’ve been ( and dream of going to) Mmmm….

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    Reply Craftilicious April 13, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Love this post – we have much smaller versions in Sheffield but without quite the same wide range of choice. The tinned foules are OK btw – I have to use them as can’t get dried fava ANYWHERE up here. Oh how I wish I lived in a proper city 🙁

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    Reply ginandcrumpets April 13, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Is that a plastic otter and do you think they’ll have sold out of them? A plastic otter is exactly the art of piece of Peckham I’d like to take with me to remind me why I must come home. I love Peckham. And otters.

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    Reply shahzada May 31, 2010 at 12:45 am


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    Reply Margo-a-go-go September 6, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    My friend N told me I had to read this blog post about my beloved Khans, which knocks Fortnums into a hat, let’s face it. You covered so much about it’s wonderfulness, but missed the joys of the eclectic music selection – I have heard everything from Radio 1 to Li’l Wayne to scratchy news broadcasts to Bhangra.

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    Reply Celia Thompson October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Hello Helen,

    Thank you so much for your writeups about food in Peckham and wider. I have just moved here from New Zealand and with no cookery books (too heavy for 20kg baggage allowance) I am rather bereft. So reading your blog this morning now makes me feel more connected into this community and how to navigate around the food on offer.

    However I did have a story about Khan’s, Recently we (two NZ’ers) were looking for pins in Peckham Rye, of course some thought we were saying pens so I worked out to call them dress making pins, but after searching what seemed like six shops the Nigerian (I presume) security guard at Iceland told us to go to Khans which he said “we call Kan’ts because that is where you find things you can’t find anywhere else”. And of course they had a packet of dress making pins!

    Amazingly I found a reference to your blog in a copy of the food section of The Times May 6, under Best blogs, along with ‘Annie Grannies Apple Charlotte’. It is the only newspaper lying around in this house – so it seems to me as though there is a wardrobe door at the back of Khan’s and I have tumbled through it into your blog and into Peckham. Thank you.

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    Reply Helen October 27, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Hello Celia and thanks so much for your comment! It’s so nice to hear that th eblog has been useful to you. brilliant story about Khan’s, that’s exactly it, you can find anything in there that you can’t find anywhere else! The place is a constant source of entertainment to me- I have to go in a least twice a week.

    Peckham is a brilliant place. It has its problems of course but the energy here is so good and mostly the people are, too. There’s a lot of creative stuff going on here and some really passionate people who are trying to improve things because they really believe in Peckham.

    You’ve come a long way though – New Zealand to Peckham! Wow, that must be a bit of a shock. Well i hope you settle in well and perhaps we’ll bump into each other in Khan’s some time without knowing it!

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    Reply Mia February 10, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Don’t forget the hardware and DIY section, and the gardening pots, rugs, lino tiles, stationary, bedding, winterwear, tights, mediterranean cheeses and electronic dept. I’ve only been disappointed there once when I needed safety goggles…

    The thing Peckham/Nunhead/Lewisham/Duwich is really missing is a proper health food shop like Brixton Wholefoods or Greenlands in Greenwich (I don’t count Holland and B as it’s rubbish, and owned by an unethical larger company).

    Maybe Kahn’s will branch out to supply locals like me with our quinoa, sunflower seeds and compostable binliners!!

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    Reply javed khan April 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    this is the fucking bul shit shop

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    Reply Catfordandy August 23, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    What an erudite and worthwhile contribution. I am always hovering on the edge of Peckham, William Rose, East Dulwich Deli (love the bread), Sopers etc but very rarely take the plunge and visit it proper. It sounds from your blog that I should. Love it by the way.

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    Reply Caroline November 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I just moved to Peckham and had my first trip to Khan’s on Sunday and remembered reading this blog post. Such an amazing shop! We just went to get some cheap kitchenware and I got a fantastic chopping board for £2.50. Also a set of mugs with cartoon dogs on, and a lighter with a strange-looking topless man on it. Can’t wait to check out all the food though, it’s such a brilliant shop, like a real cave of wonders. I’m pretty sure you could find anything in there if you looked hard enough.

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      Reply Helen November 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      Amazing, isn’t it?! Plastic animals too, don’t forget to go if you want one of those with your aubergines.

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    Reply Sarah Taylor January 6, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Love the blog, Love the post, Love Khans. Hilarious and delicious. Thank you.

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      Reply Helen January 6, 2012 at 10:25 pm

      My pleasure! Khan’s forever.

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    Reply Caroline February 26, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Just went to Khan’s to get some ingredients for this ( and was very saddened to see a sign on the counter announcing that Mr Khan has passed away.

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      Reply Helen February 27, 2012 at 9:19 am

      Oh no, that is very sad news indeed. RIP Mr. Khan.

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    Reply Elisabeth June 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Amazing. I might have to do a pilgrimage here! Ps: BUY THE STRAINED FOUL…

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    Reply Sargand taraki September 16, 2012 at 12:35 am

    Khan is the best in Peckham

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    Reply Eva October 11, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Khan is not the best in Peckham. There’s better…

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    Reply Andrina September 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    I love both your food blogs – SE London is the best bit of London by far although gentrification is spoiling some of it, its still great
    Great post.

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    Reply Daniel November 1, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    I like Khan’s, I get all my spices and beans there regularly and then all sorts of other odds and ends as and when, they are very well priced on everything I find.

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