I was really excited to be recently featured as part of a monthly series on Flavourful World, an international food, wine and spirits blog that I’ve been keenly following for a while now. Their questions provided much food for thought.
For starters, picking up on the fact that I live between Bombay and London, I was asked about the most interesting (and perhaps least expected) example, of the overlap between the two locations in terms of available cuisine. I didn’t need to think twice on this one… Indian street food! From roadside rolls (otherwise fondly known as frankies by my fellow desis) to a chai-time chaat fix, we’re surprisingly quite spoilt for choice in London. Here are some of my favourites that make me miss Bombay just a little bit less…
The Indian equivalent of *Kapow*, the word Dishoom is synonymous with the sound of a hero’s fist smashing into the villain in the climax of a Bollywood film… But that’s about the extent of any harsh undertones, as the restaurant is a nostalgic reflection of the all-day Irani cafes established by Persian immigrants arriving in Bombay in the early 20th century. Expect vintage photographs against white bare-brick walls, low hanging ceilings lamps and fans, marble-topped dark wood tables and an eccentric sign by the door, referencing the rules at Café Bastani which closed in the 1990.
Bombay classics include the vada pau – spicy potato deep-fried in batter and sandwiched in a thick bun generously smeared with hot and garlicky chutneys – and pau bhaji – a curry of mashed vegetables that you scoop out on to a hot buttered pau bun. They even have the Kejriwal on the menu – essentially fried eggs on chilli cheese toast, this is a signature dish at the Willingdon Club in Bombay, named after the member who would always order it!
What’s more, you can find Thums Up here, the glass-bottled cola that generations of Indian kids have grown up on… Thumbs up, indeed.
Dishoom, 12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9FB
A hidden gem, Inito offers a contemporary take on Indian street-food in a cheerful space off Spitalfield. The wooden crates by the counters add a nice touch, creating a feel of India’s bustling street markets.
Michelin-experienced chef Saurav Nath is at the helm, having previously worked at Benares and Gymkhana. Their focus is on made-to-order or build-it-yourself Rotis (a flatbread that forms a key staple in Indian cuisine) generously stuffed with freshly grilled meats, veggies, pickles and chutneys. Much like a Chipotle – but for Indian wraps – and with an equally wholesome salad-based option available, if a low-carb alternative suits your fancy instead.
In addition to curries and tasty sharing plates, from time to time Inito also runs specials to celebrate the myriad regional cuisines making up India’s culinary scene. I was in for quite the treat on my visit, tucking into Rajasthani deep-fried delights such as kachoris – savoury pastries perfect for dipping into my cup of piping hot chai (served in “cutting glasses” typical of street tea vendors) that grey and rainy afternoon.
If you’re craving a roadside roll in central London, then head to the Oxford Circus outpost of this cult NYC chain. With its vintage vibes and retro Bollywood movie posters peeling off the bare-brick walls, Kati Roll Company reminds me a bit of the street side pit stops of India, perfect for a quick recharge. Choose between marinated meats, seasoned vegetables or tender chunks of paneer (cottage cheese) wrapped between hot wholewheat rotis or the more decadent, perfectly browned, parathas. Washed down with a fresh mango lassi, it always hits the spot.
Kathi Roll Compay, 24 Poland St, London W1F 8QL
Unassumingly tucked away behind the frenzy of Oxford Street, you’ll find a laid back Indian street kitchen where you can cool your heels over chai and chaat, tasty savoury snacks. Their papri chaat is my favourite this side of Bombay, potatoes and chickpeas festooned with lashings of sweetened yogurt and tamarind chutney, sitting atop a bed of crisp wheat wafers. The pani puri is also good here, hollow semolina shells you stuff with the potato-chickpea mash, before dousing over with a muddy looking but moreishly tangy ‘jal jeera’ water.
For a more substantial meal, this canteen-style eatery also serves up flavoursome curries and lentils, and if you’re literally looking to cool off this summer, then the deliciously creamy kulfi sticks will no doubt help to beat the heat.
Roti Chai, 3 Portman Mews South, London W1H 6HS
In case you’re interested, you can catch my full interview with Flavourful World, here.