Kids Corner


Women on a Mission:
Punjab'n De Rasoi




East, west, home’s best, as they say.

Italians take this philosophy to extremes. Nothing can ever compete with mamma’s cooking, and as for nonna’s (grandmother’s), now that has sacred status. British Michelin-starred chefs dream of their mum’s Sunday roast, or rice pudding. The unpretentiousness of the food is part of its charm. Home cooking isn’t trying to be fancy, quite the opposite. Familiarity, reassurance and reliability are the cornerstone of its charm.

Out of the home, this characteristically feminine type of cooking is almost impossible to find. It’s not about the gender of the kitchen personnel. Even in kitchens with female chefs, restaurant cooking - for which read male cooking - takes over. The key difference here is that the male (restaurant) school of cooking is predicated on advance “prep” of ingredients, then last-minute cooking and assembly. Timing is critical and presentation is a preoccupation.

Home cooking is more laid back. You mainly prepare it in one continuous time frame and either serve it at an appointed time, or reheat it as necessary. It’s not about looks, but taste.

Sikhs know all about homely food. In Punjab - and in every nook and corner on the globe - every Sikh place of worship (gurdwara) has a kitchen (langar) that serves simple, nutritious and free food, both to those attending and to visitors.

At Punjab’n De Rasoi in Leith, Scotland, the food isn’t free, but it is extremely cheap and brought to you by Sikh women serving the traditional home cooking of the Punjab.

The cafe got off the ground with a grant from the Scottish Government’s Third Sector Enterprise Fund, aiming to empower Sikh women. Eating there, it’s obvious that these ladies are immensely capable.

The food is a treat. After a great lunch, I found myself remembering the words of that old song, “I’ve got a granny, a Hindustani Granny”, and in particular, the line “When she feeds me chapatis, curried mince and tatties, I’m vindaloo all day”.

The women running Punjab’n De Rasoi are young and dynamic, and most certainly not grannies, but they did send us away purring with contentment.

We could taste the feminine touch in the pakoras and samosas, which were in another league from the greasy, heavy offerings that often bear that name. The cod pakoras - ask for Sikh rather than Scottish levels of spice and chilli - were a dream: feather-light batter, stiff with fresh, firm flakes of fish. The potato and onion filling in the samosas was green with fresh coriander leaves and encased in delightfully friable pastry. Both came with home-made chutney, which was hot, fruity and not too sweet.

In the daal, too often an indeterminate, underpowered sludge in other restaurants, split peas had been seasoned with a lovely fresh “tarka” oil. A potato and aubergine curry managed to be positively light and aromatic with spices. First-rate chapatis and perfumed, free-flowing, impeccably dry, unsticky rice showed years of experience.

The biggest delight of all was the fish curry. I’m not sure I’ve eaten one better.

It was top-loaded with generous amounts of harbour-fresh fish. The spicing - cumin, fresh chilli, lots of turmeric - along with fresh tomato and coriander, really added to the fish in a punchy way, without masking its essential taste. An unbelievable bargain at £5.25 - and this is one of the dearer items on the menu.

I usually find gulab jamun way too sweet and often pretty leaden.

But at Punjab’n De Rasoi, they are airy, spongy pillows, bathed in a light-touch syrup.

But, by way of comfort food, this was eclipsed by the Punjabi dessert speciality, gajjrela. Basically, you cook grated carrot very slowly with milk, cream, raw (palm) sugar, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, raisins and nuts, until it turns into a gorgeous, gooey, sticky mass. Now this is what you want your mum to serve you when your appetite is tentatively returning after an illness. It slips down a treat.

Punjab’n De Rasoi is a bright, functional but cheery space. You can take £15 cooking classes here, and they’re not women-only either. I’m tempted, but to be honest, these Sikh ladies cook so well, I’m not sure I want to learn.


Punjab'n De Rasoi is located at 122-124 Leith Walk, Edinburgh 07865895022.

Lunch/Dinner £6.95-£10.


Food rating: 9/10


[Courtesy: The Herald. Edited for]

August 7, 2011



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