Living in Oxford sometimes feel like living in a bubble: the big quads, formal halls and black-tie events seem to bring us ever further away from reality. I wished so many times that I could go back to the normal-looking, charming streets back home with shops that don’t just sell souvenirs or over-priced food.
But all that was before I found out about Cowley; the vibrant, slightly-dodgy part of Oxford. From the roundabout across the river, the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ brings one down Cowley Road. While it might seem underwhelming at first, the best is yet to come.
A few minutes down the street, a colourful mural greets you, proudly proclaiming that you have arrived at ‘The Sunny Side of Oxford’ with its humble storefronts and half-broken pavement.
And after a year of greeting this mural with immense joy, I have, as an Asian, learnt about a few of the gems on this narrow street. Here are three that I wish I knew when I first arrived:
No matter hotpot, Korean BBQ, or just some drinks and sweets to get through the day, Seoul Plaza is the one-stop-shop for all your East Asian food needs. While I have the chance, I must thank them for giving me the chance to get a taste of my hometown 3AM comfort food all the way here in Oxford: the Nissin Seafood flavor cup noodle, which I once asked my friends to mail here, all the way from Hong Kong.
But the best thing is that even I have discovered new varieties of food in Seoul Plaza. From ice cream mochis, Korean beer, char siu (barbecue pork) sauce to kimchi dumplings, the array of options one can get in this seemingly small store is truly amazing.
So, if you are looking for something new to cook, or just want to try to go somewhere that isn’t Sainsbury’s or Tesco, don’t hesitate to visit this modest Supermarket.
While there are indeed lots of choices in Oxford Town Centre to go for Chinese food, Zhang Ji is still worth the 15-minute walk just to get to taste genuine Chinese cuisine. With a price tag of 10 pounds or more a dish, it brings Northeast China directly to the heart of Cowley (and the edge of Oxford) and is a pilgrimage for many of the university’s Chinese community.
With so many dishes to choose from, with chili or without, be sure to order a bowl of rice for yourself, and share the chicken, pork, vegetables and what not amongst your friends. Even better, go for the nearby G&Ds for some desert, without having to deal with the crowds of the small St. Aldate’s café!
So, you thought Edamame was the only good Japanese restaurant in Oxford? Frustrated by the weird opening times and long queues for the beloved home-cooking restaurant on Holywell street, Taberu became a great new option for me. Serving ramen, rice, sushi and sashimi regularly, with a similar price range as Edamame, Taberu is a good substitution for when you really want to have a nice miso soup on a Monday.
While I would not go as far to say that it is better than Edamame (because nothing is, or will ever be), Taberu remains a rare gem for a city so deprived of good food (I’m still praying for Gregg’s to finally set up shop here).
While these are some of my favorites, there are still truly so much more to discover on this humble street.
So, break the bubble! Explore this great town of ours, and make an adventure out of a procrastination break that is definitely only going to last for half-an-hour…
Image Credit: Kamyar Adl