With his debut poetry collection launching on the Flower of Bristol trip boat on 17 October, Bristol City Poet Caleb Parkin introduces his top five eateries and drinkeries. It’s mostly veggie, a bit boozy, and a lot of it’s wrapped in pastry…

Caleb Parkin, Bristol City Poet

Jeevan Sweets, Stapleton Road

Hang-er (hungry-anger) is one of my less appealing traits. One of the things that regularly saves me from doing something regrettable is a samosa. I adore them (turns out I’m a pan-cuisine dumpling-fiend, see below). For me, Jeevan’s are the best samosas – and you can order a huge box of 50 for parties for £30! (At which I’ll kid myself I’ll only eat two or three, before I stop counting and deny all knowledge of my samosa intake.)

They also do a tiffin tin, which you can get filled up for under a tenner and means a great takeaway with no waste. If you’re me – you then buy way too many samosa and pakora, to eat with Natco garlic pickle from Rajani Superstore (FYI, if you’re in time for their stock). As a pickles agnostic, Natco garlic is the best pickle and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

Jeevan’s paneer bites are little red spheres of spicy, cheesy joy; their sweets are a campy aesthetic delight, with metallic flakes and bright colours – though I love the coconut gulab jamun the most. All great value, all veggie, all lovely, mostly healthy (sugar is vegan, after all).

Owners of Jeevan Sweets holding a box of their food
Image - Jeevan Sweets, credit Plaster

Ah-Ma’s Dumplings – delivery and market stalls

If I had to eat any other food on repeat and indefinitely, it would be gyoza, or similar dumplings. Ah-Mah’s make handmade dim sum and Cantonese-style cuisine, including just such delicious pastry morsels. (Full disclosure: my friend makes these! But that does not diminish how glorious Ah-Ma’s dumplings are.)

Writing this, I made the mistake of looking at their website, including pictures of all the varieties of dumplings (mushroom, savoy and preserved radish, please) and bao buns (the butternut squash are gorgeois, but we did once have a meat transgression with pork belly and reader – I regret nothing). I am now a puddle of drool.

Moving on: they deliver, or pop up at various markets, all listed on the website. Oh and you can get them to freeze, meaning you can eat them whenever you like. There’s my stomach rumbling again.

Espensen Spirit & Bristol Spirit, Whitehall Road

We live just up the road from Bristol Spirit, which is a dog-friendly (nay, pro-dog) micro-distillery with pop-up food, championing local booze producers, especially those made by womxn. Their selection of fancy boozes really is glorious and while they’ve been more of a (lockdown) bottle shop, I enjoyed a pre-Christmas splurge there – including crème brulee stout (Is it a drink? Is it a dessert? It’s both, and more, believe me.)

Pre-pandemic, they offered super cute screenings-with-food combos – we watched Rocketman there with an amazing roast. It has a special place in my heart as we once ran a Dog Quiz in Bristol Spirit, which was a joy. (I’m wondering about a Cephalopod Quiz now – too niche?) I’m really hoping their playful events can return soon, it’s such a great local place to eat, drink and be merry – amongst dogs. A perfect mix.

Cocktail from Bristol Spirit

Image - Bristol Spirit

Suyuan, off Queen Square

Suyuan offer ‘pure vegetarian home cooking’ – and it’s divine. The restaurant space itself is fairly small, but the service and décor are both delightful. We’ve had take-out from here a couple of times over lockdowns and cycled down to get it (such was our commitment).

If you want a veggie restaurant you could take avowed meat-enthusiasts to and they ‘won’t even notice’ because it’s such inspiring, surprising food – I reckon this could be it. The menu is very different to most other Chinese restaurants and the flavours, spices and textures are unusual, beautiful, nourishing, and entirely non-greasy.

Houriah, St Werburgh’s (delivery)

My partner introduced me to Houriah, which is an CIC (Community Interest Company) and “anti-slavery & anti-racism organisation, training & hiring female survivors of slavery in a Pan-African catering company”. They offer catering and community feasts – but we’ve had their ‘Friday Feasts’ a few times now, which are veggie, flavourful and plentiful – we have ours over two days. Trust me, you’ve never experienced cauliflower (which Nigella claims is just ‘the ghost of broccoli’) like this.

Ordering their food is not only brilliant because it’s flipping delicious – but because you’re also supporting their consultation and training work around anti-racism and modern slavery awareness. As their website says, the company and their produce is a ‘joyful solution’ to some very real issues, so get ordering and enjoy.

Argh, I looked at their menu now and am almost too hungry to continue writing this. Tempeh and plantain coconut curry! Stop! Pavlov strikes. Dinner time.

About the author

Caleb Parkin is Bristol City Poet 2020 – 22. He’s won or shortlisted in various national competitions, with poems are published in The Rialto, The Poetry Review, Under the Radar, Poetry Wales, Magma, Butcher’s Dog, Lighthouse and through commissions including Poetry Society, Lyra Festival, Green Party, National Literacy Trust, Royal British Legion, and The Hepworth Wakefield. He lives in a human-canine pack in suburban Bristol. His debut collection This Fruiting Body with Nine Arches Press in October 2021.

It launches with a boat party on the Bristol Packet trip boat, Flower of Bristol, on October 17th, from 2 to 5pm with readings and a silent eco-disco. Tickets – including a discounted, signed book bundle – are available now.  

Keep up with Caleb on Twitter (@CalebParkin) or via his website.

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