Like many of my fellow beans, I consider myself to have a well-rounded palate and a decent set of taste buds. So how (especially with my penchant for Indian takeaways) have I completely missed Pakora?
Pakora is a fried/deep-fried Indian dish similar to a bhajji but the gram flour batter encases, rather than runs through, the filling. It’s a North Indian favourite traditionally filled with chicken, vegetables or paneer. And I’d never heard of it.
It seems pakora is a dish that has flown under my taste radar for all 32 years of my life – barring last month. In September I visited Scotland and, at the urgings of my utterly horrified (‘What do you mean, what’s pakora?!’) Scottish boyfriend, tried this crispy Indian gem for the very first time.
The Pakora Bar, Hanover Street, Edinburgh, is (although offering a couple of other dishes on the menu) a colourful little place dedicated to pakora of all kinds. They serve traditional, gluten free and vegetarian options with some fantastic fillings such as paneer, haggis and mushroom.
We ordered a lunch deal that gave us a good spread to try: haggis, black pudding, white pudding, aubergine and chicken. Each arrived in a small dish with salad and a bright-red onion chutney I WISH I could eat – I tried a little of it and the taste was delicious. Unfortunately, one thing my tongue can’t handle is spice, but a delicious mango lassi saw me through enough to fully enjoy the pakora.
And enjoy it I did – my favourite being the black pudding with aubergine pieces, which in turn offered both a meaty, spiced bite and a creamier, veggie delight.
Naturally (in his element) my boyfriend stuffed his face and washed it down with a cold can of Iron Bru (so Scottish!).
When we got home, I was curious to find out how I’d missed, for most of my life, an Indian side dish as common and popular in Scotland as samosas and onion bhajjis are here. I asked around and, just as I thought, several of my friends had never heard of it either. Only very few had actually tried it as part of an Indian takeaway.
This I reported back to the lad. Disbelieving, he in turn messaged his foodie friends at The Plate Unknown who confirmed that relatively few Indian restaurants in London and the South East seemed to offer it on their menu. It just wasn’t as common – but why? Why, when it’s so delicious, is it so mysteriously absent?
In the end I’ve chalked it up to one of those strange regional anomalies – not unlike gherkins in Lincolnshire. Not for the life of me could I find a gherkin in a fish & chip shop up there and it was all very upsetting.
I hope (mostly for my boyfriend’s sake, but also mine) that pakora gets its chance to shine in the South East. He sometimes tells me of a Dundee Kebab shop (Istanbul, Perth Road) that used to offer a late-night chocolate pakora ready for when the pubs and bars closed for the night – a sweet treat a pudding-enthusiast like me can only dream about.
Places like Market Halls Victoria and The Vinegar Yard seem the perfect opportunity for these sensational side plates with that bitesize, street-food vibe.
For now, (at least in the future when we can travel freely again) I guess I’ll just have to make Scottish foodie trips a far more regular thing.