Spendthrift goes to Leicester in our series on shopping around the country
The golden domed mosque by Leicester's railway station reminds visitors that this is the British city with the highest percentage of non-white population: almost 30 per cent. It has the only Jain Temple in Europe, and its Diwali Festival, celebrated by both Hindus and Sikhs, is the biggest outside India. Celebrations start tomorrow, with the switching on of the Diwali lights, Asian music and a firework display, and continue till Diwali Day itself, on November 10.

This cultural diversity is reflected in its shopping, especially in Belgrave Road, north of the centre: the place to go for an authentic curry. Here restaurants, saree shops, sweet centres, jewellers, greengrocers and general stores jostle side by side and you can buy everything from a hand-embroidered silk saree to a chum-chum (a Gujerati sweet made from full-cream milk).

The ethnic mix isn't only confined to Belgrave Road. In Leicester Market (800 years old and the largest covered market in Europe) you'll find red snappers from Barbados and strawberry groupers fresh from the Seychelles. From cow heels to conger eels, Leicester Market has it. Between the market and the monumental Shires Shopping Centre - fountains, walkways, Virgin, Boots et al - is where the bulk of Leicester's more interesting shops are found, especially Loseby Lane and St Martin's Square.

There are over a dozen car parks within the city centre, while the bus station is handy for both the centre and Belgrave Road. If arriving by train, don't take the obvious route into the city (through a dismal underpass and past down-at-heel shops) but walk alongside Waterloo Way, directly opposite the station, which brings you to New Walk. Britain's first pedestrian walkway was laid out in 1785 and remains a delightful way to stroll straight to the heart of this surprisingly lively city.

General Stores

TF Cash and Carry: The doorway to this basement wonderland is easily missed, and it's a good place for Indian cooking utensils: enamel smokeless woks (pounds 16.75) and sizzle platters (pounds 8.95). Great for fireworks, too, sold for Diwali and Bonfire Night. "The aliens are confronted by a staggering 25-shot batallion of crashing comet-tail starbursts" promises the War of the Worlds. That's only pounds 4.99 so goodness knows what the pounds 19.99 Dragon Fury will unleash.

93 Belgrave Road (0116-266 0946)


Clafoutis: Stocks mainly French names for children from six months to 16 years: Miniman, Catimini, Chevignon and Chipie. The Paul Smith range of children's wear is here too, with coats from pounds 60-140. Designer jeans are pounds 30 to pounds 60.

25 Loseby Lane (0116-262 7027)

Voodoo: Get past the Goth and PVC clubwear downstairs, and upstairs is a wide selection of ethnic clothing. Balinese skirts and dresses (pounds 20- pounds 26) and hand-knitted jumpers from Ecuador (pounds 50-pounds 70). "We have mad hair- dye colours as well," said the assistant, "and we do body-piercing jewellery". 44 Silver Street (0116-262 3159)

Saree Mandir: The biggest saree shop in Europe. Ladies' suits start at pounds 45 and go up to pounds 1000 for one hand-embroidered in silk. Chunnis (scarves) and fancy shawls are a more modest pounds 2.50-pounds 5, in colours that would make a rainbow seem pale and wan. Delightful children's outfits from pounds 12.

117-129 Belgrave Road (0116-266 8144)


Leicester Market: With almost 400 stalls, if you can't buy it at Leicester Market then it probably can't be bought. Local cheeses are Red Leicester (pounds 1.48 per lb) and Blue Stilton (pounds 1.79), while the fish and meat stalls are superb. From tripe (98p) and pig tail snout (pounds 1.10) to Brancaster mussels (60p per lb), Indian pomfret (pounds 2.98) and Bombay duck (pounds 2.90). Outside, Goodman and Whitehead Fruit and Nut Specialists are worth seeking out, for lime leaves, wet walnuts, juniper berries, basil, Szechuan pepper and any spice you can name.

Currant Affairs: The window is full of hearty-looking takeaway goodies, such as wholemeal pizza (95p) and Vegan-approved nut rolls (65p), while inside is a selection of organic wines and beers (strawberry wine, Norfolk Punch), organic coffee and a spice rack ranging from alfalfa seeds to vanilla pods.

9a Loseby Lane (0116-251 0887)

Jalpur Millers: This Asian supermarket mills its own flour and spices, and if you want basmati in bulk, this is the place. There are red lentils from Australia, green lentils from Turkey, white beans from India and popcorn from the USA. Black salt costs pounds 1.50 for 400g, chana dal pounds 1.39 for 700g, sliced betle nuts pounds 2.50 for 200g.

137a Harrison Road (0116-266 6206)

Sharmilee: A rainbow display of Indian sweets in this smart sweet mart, prices ranging from about pounds 2-pounds 4 per pound. Khaja rolls and fulkhaja are both made from plain flour, honey and crushed pistachios, the latter looking like green and yellow Swiss rolls. Upstairs is an award-winning vegetarian restaurant specialising in south Indian dishes. 71/73 Belgrave Road (0116- 261 0503)

Ram Lakhan Sweet Centre: The owner says the trend today is for fancier sweets, and at Diwali he makes some that look and taste like fruit: apples, pears, melons. Three-colour barfis are made from cashew, pistachio and almond, while coconut barfis have a base of sugar and milk (both pounds 4 per lb). Pendas are cheaper (pounds 1.80 per lb), also made from sugar and milk with saffron, vanilla or other flavouring. Diwali is not a time for dieting. 47 Belgrave Road (0116-261 0788)


Sheehan's Music Services: Turn left from the station to find this shop selling new and second-hand musical instruments, with a repair service too. Penny whistles now cost pounds 2,99, or you could spend pounds 2700 on a flute. A Sacred Elder Didgeridoo is pounds 81, plus pounds 3.50 for the Sacred Elder Guide to Good Vibrations. Guitars from pounds 40-pounds 4000 or African kalimbas for pounds 77 (pluck it and see).

50 London Road (0116-255 7492)

Rockaboom: If the noise doesn't blast you back out of the front door, this is the place to sell your old records, tapes and CDs, or buy some new ones. Huge selection of reggae CDs and a range from Popular Hungarian Gypsy Melodies (pounds 12.99) to the John Peel Sessions (sale price pounds 6.99). Concert tickets too.

4 St Martin's Square (0116-253 8293)


Nigel Dakin: "Restoring rings is a dying art," said Nigel Dakin, a one- man jewellery business with showroom at front, workroom at back. He restores wedding and engagement rings that have lost their lustre - though whether that works for the relationship too is not his business. He undertakes commissions, and a tasteful range of rings, pendants, necklaces and chains ("doing hand-made chains is an unusual art these days") cost from pounds 350- pounds 6000. 4 New Walk (0116-255 0831)

D Pradhaubbai Odhayji: "Indian buyers want 22 carat gold," said the owner, "not 19-carat, which most British jewellers provide, and definitely no silver". An Indian custom is to give a gift of gold to a child when it's six days old. Asian taste may be too garish for British customers, but if you like gold then Leicester's "Golden Mile" of Belgrave Road is the place.

55 Belgrave Road (0116-266 2807)

Specialist Shops

El Encanto: The name means the Enchanting Place, and it is. The American owner has been selling South American clothes and gifts for 14 years. Gorgeous alpaca knitwear (pounds 50-pounds 75), Peruvian merino wool tapestries (pounds 29), traditional Peruvian mirrors (pounds 3.50-pounds 60) and eyecatching men's cotton shirts from Ecuador, in pale cream with vivid embroidery (pounds 15).

29 Loseby Lane (0116-251 7719)

The Ark: "Dolphins are on sale," an assistant was telling a customer. This eco-friendly store with cafe attached sells recycled fax rolls (from pounds 4.23), biodegradable pens (80p), Japanese foot massagers (pounds 5.50) and - for stationery fans - some beautiful Indian handmade paper notebooks (pounds 4).

2-6 St Martin's Walk (0116-262 0909)

Solstice: Green Man wall plaques (pounds 9.99), tarot cards (pounds 13.95), a good range of tapes at pounds 8.95 (Crystal Dolphin Meditation, The Shaman Journey), magazines with titles like Sacred Hoop and Kindred Spirit, and the inevitable crystals and candles.

9 Silver Walk, St Martin's Square (0116-262 2230)

The Very Bazaar: Colourful Nepalese cotton tops and Indonesian skirts for pounds 37.99, though if the phrase Aladdin's Cave has to be used then it's here: silver jewellery, body tattoos (pounds l.95), juggling kits (pounds l4.95) and Guatamalan rain sticks (pounds 8.95-pounds 18.95). 37a/41 Silver Street (0116-262 1568)

Mike Gerrard

Leicester Tourist Information Centre, 7/9 Every Street, Town Hall Square; call 0116-265 0555.