- Tasty Indian meals, picture by Mirza Asif Beg

If you're skint and bulk-buy ramen has you on the verge of MSG poisoning, Indian grocery markets may be your saviour. Once you know where to start, there's a whole avenue of cheap and tasty food to explore. Despite being inexpensive, pre-packaged Indian meals often contain proper ingredients in vacuum-sealed pouches - unlike our preservative-loaded supermarket "food".

The first thing to cover is pre-made curry. You may already be familiar with something like Tadka Dahl, but have you ever tried Kadhi Pakora? It has an intriguing combination of hot and sour my western taste-buds had never encountered. And you have to try the king of curries, Bhindi Masala. I particularly like the MTR brand: it may look like dog dirt, but the flavour and aroma are overwhelming, with rich, almost yeasty overtones in a thick spice gravy.

Here in Australia, these meals are usually around AU$2.50, which in Sterling should be a bit over a pound. Many of these meals don't require cooking, which is a bonus when you're in a pinch. Generally, these foods are vegetarian, but much of it combines nicely with meat. Pre-made Kadhi Pakora goes brilliantly with cheap Aldi chicken tenders, and Bhindi Masala is great with any kind of chicken, or even a supermarket pie!

You haven't lived until you've had MTR's bloke-tastic Bhindi Masala.

You haven't lived until you've had MTR's bloke-tastic Bhindi Masala.

Up next are Indian pickles. If you've never tried them, these are very strong (and usually hot) pickles that completely change whatever you're eating. If you're stuck with a boring salad, or a dull pie and mash, these pickles can completely transform your meal. Most jars will be around two quid and should see you through the month. Mileage may vary.

Flavours already well known to the West include lime, mango, and Brinjal pickle, but lemon pickle should be added to that list, and I'm a big fan of Nirapara's 'Hot & Sweet Lime Pickle'. If you want to be more adventurous, try Gongura pickle - which goes nicely with roast beef - and Methia Gunda, which is excellent with chicken.

If you're bored of snacking on crisps, try a few varieties of namkeen. Coming from the Hindi word for salty or savoury, namkeen is a whole category of snack food based around dry crunchy pieces flavoured with herbs and spices, often mixed with ingredients like nuts and sultanas.

Indian pickles can transform English food into something edible.

Indian pickles can transform English food into something edible.

If you want an immediate smack in the face of hot and salty, you can't go wrong with Aloo Bhujia. For dry and salty with less heat, try Nimbu Masala or Tomato Sev. For a savoury combination involving dried fruits, try Mahalaxmi Chivda and Navrattan Chivda. And for something easily served at dinner, try Haldiram's Mini Samosa and Kemchho's Dry Fruit Kachori. These are miniature servings of stuffed savoury pockets, with a taste somewhere between a curry puff and a fruit mince pie.

But overall, my chief pick would still be Bhindi Masala. It's one of those slightly vulgar manly foods that appeal to your baser instincts - you haven't technically sinned but it feels like you must have done something wrong! Get yourself a metric-standard quarter chicken and chips and pour it over the top. You don't even need to cook it, just open the pack and squeeze. Bhindi Masala in one hand, lager in the other, and Premier League on telly. Bloke heaven.

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