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By Stefan Chomka
– Last updated on GMT
Related tags: Indian cuisine, Chef, Fine dining, Book review, Ziaur Choudhrey
Ziaur Choudhrey’s story of a Bangladeshi child growing up in Birmingham in the 1980s through to present day is one that will resonate with many people of a certain age, not just in the hospitality sector but in the wider migrant community. Tales of segregation and of being chased home from school by members of the National Front will be all too familiar for many readers of his very personal book Going for an Indian, as will his travails in trying to elevate Indian cuisine from the post pub, drunken sustenance of the local curry house to something of more substance and status.
Today, thanks to the work of chefs like him and others in London and across the country, as well as modern casual dining groups such as Dishoom that have moved the cuisine away from being merely regarded as a late-night option among western diners, the status of Indian food has rightfully risen, although more work still needs to be done for it to properly gain the respect it fully deserves. One thing that is indisputable, however, is the impact that Bangladeshi migrants have had on the UK’s dining scene over the past 50 years, something which Choudhrey acknowledges and celebrates, dedicating his book to “the Bangladeshi community that has seen the hardships and left a legacy”. A community, he says, that built an empire - the UK curry industry.
Choudhrey is a co-founder of Montaz, a modern Indian restaurant that has venues in Newmarket in Suffolk and St Ives in Cambridge. His story details growing up in Birmingham and his part in Birmingham’s curry scene, from his first job at a restaurant in Kenilworth that came alive at 11.15 when the pubs kicked out - and the challenges this brought - to becoming a restaurateur inspired to be true to his culinary roots at his own restaurants. Fuelled by a desire to create dishes that would be familiar in the homes of people in Indian and Bangladesh, rather than the anglicised curry dishes that were expected by his patrons, and encouraged to keep on this path by visiting chefs including Daniel Clifford and Mark Poynton, Choudhrey has built a strong reputation for Montaz and its authentic but also contemporary Indian food.
Thankfully, Going for an Indian is also in part a cookbook. While first and foremost one man’s reflection on his cultural heritage and the role of the Bangladeshi community in the Midlands, rather than an Indian cookbook with an extended preamble, when you read his description of his approach to cooking you can’t help but want to dig deeper into what he is talking about. Choudhrey dutifully delivers with 50 recipes that include those served in his restaurants to more homespun ones.
The book is published by A Way With Media, the publishing house behind Nathan Davies’ forthcoming debut cookbook On Fire. It is divided into chapters, one on starters, that include ox cheek samosa, and mackerel recheado; another dedicated to Montaz signature dishes such as tandoori chukundari duck, and Bengali roast chicken; and a further one on home-cooked dishes such as goat and potato curry, and keffere chingri - a combination of king prawns, onions, garlic, green chillies and kaffir lime leaves. Other sections are given over to vegetarian options; breads and rice; sauces; as well as a small chapter on desserts. Recipes are strikingly simple with cooking on the bone often playing an integral role in developing the more traditional flavours of his homeland.
Although Going for an Indian lays bare the darker side of running an Indian restaurant in the UK in the last century and is the tale of a chef pushing against this, it isn’t a rejection of the anglicised versions of Indian food served in curry houses across the country or the people and places that serve it. Rather, it is an exploration into how it is perceived, the hard work and effort that goes into sustaining such an important part of the UK’s dining scene and the continued fight to change people’s perceptions that goes on today. It is also an honest insight into how chefs and restaurateurs strive to develop and evolve the food they serve without alienating their customers - where that’s Indian cuisine or another.
As Choudhrey says: “My story is your story. Everyone struggles with adversity. We all have challenges to overcome, whether we are brown, black or white. We have to be the best we can be as we push forward to do better.”
Going for an Indian
Total number of pages: 191
Standout dish: tandoori chukundari duck with beetroot chutney and savoy cabbage
Publisher and price: A Way With Media, £30
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