Kirkgate Market is becoming a destination for foodies. On heading to the food court, shoppers might notice a new business selling slices of pizza, or people eating great value oysters at the long established Hayes Seafood. Wander a bit further, around aisles of clothes, greengrocers and furniture, and you may be lucky enough to discover Sweet Saeeda.
Sweet Saeeda is a Tunisian street food stall that has brought new and interesting flavours to Leeds. Tunisian food is not common in England, often concentrating on couscous, when it is sold. This stall brings a new dimension to our understanding of Tunisian food.
The food served here is spicy, fresh and good value. Everything is home cooked, and that includes the Tunisian bread, served as an accompaniment to meals or stuffed as a sandwich. The smell of warm bread pervades the stall, mingling with a heady mix of spices. The bread is served warm, with a pleasingly crisp outside and soft inside.
On my most recent trip, I tried the Merguez Ojja. This dish is sometimes described as Tunisian sausage and egg, which wildly underestimates the complexity of the dish. A rich, spicy sauce was laced with chunky lumps of merguez sausage and silky pieces of egg. The dish was sprinkled with small, crunchy pieces of onion, fresh chilli and parsley leaves. A stick of the wonderful bread is served on the side, great for dipping into the rich sauce.This has become one of my favourite dishes, anywhere. Ojja can also be ordered with merguez, chicken or prawn, at the bargain price of £5.
My food was served on a patterned ceramic plate. I ate it at a small wooden table, one of two, next to the stall. Other people were ordering food to take back to the office, to take home or to carry around the corner to the food court, where friends were ordering from other outlets.
Most other people were ordering either the Tunisian bread sandwiches or the Tunisian Plate. The plate dishes include a choice of lamb, paprika or curry chicken, merguez, halloumi, falafel or fish. To this is added various salads, bread, chips and a drink. The fish costs £8 and everything else is priced at £7. This is probably the best value meal in the whole market, guaranteed to completely fill you.
There are other Tunisian specialities such as Brik – fried stuffed filo pastry – alongside non-Tunisian offerings such as burgers. One of these days I will make the effort to go to the market early to try their Tunisian breakfast, another bargain at £4.50, which includes mint tea. A weekend special of couscous is served on Saturdays.
Mokhles Bougoffa tells me he has been running Sweet Saeeda since 2015. I think it may have taken me a couple of years to discover the stall as I don’t remember visiting that long ago. Some customers have been coming here for years; regular shoppers or workers from nearby offices. One dedicated customer left an envelope of money when instructed to work from home at the start of Covid, his attempt to ensure his favourite food would endure beyond the pandemic.
One of the pleasures of visiting the stall is seeing Mokhles work. During my half hour there, he served a dozen people. He runs the stall single handed. It was recently closed for a couple of weeks when he went to visit his mother in Tunisia. He handles two or three orders at a time, seamlessly moving from fryer, to cooker, to bread oven to salad bar, never seeming rushed.
The salad bar excites the eyes and palate, with ceramic bowls of colourful offerings, freshly prepared each day. Sandwiches are crammed not just with cheese, meat or falafel but also with hummus and various salads. Mokhles takes care to ask exactly what his customers would like. When a customer saw my ojja but did not want meat he was happy to prepare an eggs only version.
If you haven’t tracked it down already, look out for Sweet Saeeda next time you visit Kirkgate Market.
Photography by Debbie Rolls. Cover image: Mokhles at work.