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Still Lives: Matta's - where the cheer lasts all year

The family behind Liverpool's favourite exotic food shop will be sitting down to turkey with the trimmings, says Stephanie De Leng

Published on December 21st 2009.

Still Lives: Matta's - where the cheer lasts all year

IT IS that time of the year again and I find myself thinking of the Matta family and their wonderful food emporium on Bold Street. For despite being the last to sit for “People in Liverpool”, they were undoubtedly its inspiration from the project’s conception.

If you ask Mrs Matta nicely, who prefers to sit in the back with the frozen fish, she might even divulge her failproof prawn soup recipe

However, it took me a good many years to pick up the courage to approach them. How would they react? I was oddly shy. So many times I found myself standing at the counter, the request stuck in my throat, afraid lest they misunderstood my intentions.

But why MATTA’S? Because it was the first shop to bring international foods to all of Liverpool, in particular fresh coriander, which for years proved almost impossible to find anywhere. This shop was, and still is, a foodies’ hub where you can encounter almost anyone. Indeed, it is a favourite stop-off for Willy Russell.

The atmosphere there is always upbeat. I have never known a cross word from Mr. Matta, who along with his two sons, Dalip and Deepak, cheerfully serve everyone, no matter how long the queues. If you ask Mrs Matta nicely, who prefers to sit in the back with the frozen fish, she might even divulge her failproof prawn soup recipe.

So it was with great relief that when I finally did dare ask them to "stand" for me last December, despite being somewhat bewildered, they nevertheless agreed to play along. Early one Sunday morning, Dalip, and Mr. and Mrs. Matta arrived to prepare their shop - the shutters were opened, pavements swept, lights turned on, and the street in front kept clear of vehicles.

A few late night revelers zigzagged in oblivion down Bold Street, lost in the nether regions brought about by substances illegal and otherwise. In this surreal setting Mr. Matta served my assistant and I tea, while we waited for the last family members to arrive - Deepak and his Liverpudlian wife, Jill, with their five children.

Eventually an impressive people carrier pulled up and the clan hastily disembarked. Thus ten Mattas assembled outside their gleaming shop. We started at once, before the winter sun rose too high and the traffic on Bold Street impeded our shoot.

Using powerful portable lighting coupled with a warming filter, I snapped away. My assistant made annoying suggestions - annoying in that he was right.

“Take the baby out of the baby chair,” he hissed.

“Shut up,” I hissed back... ”Er, can you take the baby out of its chair,” I requested.

Soon the shoot was over and Deepak and co rushed away in their carrier for a family outing to the zoo. We packed up and left, but not before Mr. Matta had stuffed a large eco shopping bag full of eastern goodies for me.

Once home I unpacked my “Christmas hamper” and mused that although fresh coriander was now commonplace in national supermarkets, organic aduki bean sprouts and sango radish shoots were most definitely not.

And so now, a year later, I have just come back from Bold Street with my magic eastern ingredients for our Christmas dinner. I shall marinate our bird in a fusion of oriental spices and steam it slowly. The starter will be Mrs. Matta’s prawn soup, making sure the tomatoes are not tinned, as she advised.

And if you are curious as to what the Mattas will be doing on Christmas Day, I can tell you. At lunchtime they will be sitting down together to feast on traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings. Lots of trimmings - for Dalip is a vegetarian. And then, in the evening, Mr. Matta will cook his favourite dish, Lamb Biryani. East embraces West. Sweet.

Click Here to visit MATTA'S

*Stephanie’s first book “People in Liverpool” is available from various retail outlets or directly through her website www.stephaniedeleng.co.uk for only £15.98 including postage

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de VouvrayDecember 21st 2009.

Spiffing people, spiffing shop. One of the best things in Liverpool.(But where was the sister?)

MitchDecember 21st 2009.

This is a lovely piece of writing full of heart and awrmth and sums up the Matta's shopping experience perfectly. What a great shop and asset to Liverpool this is. I love this photo Steph, it always reminds me of the old victorian images where the staff are standing outside the store

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