Authentic Bangladeshi food
Indian restaurateur Salim Miah is offering diners a taste of authentic home cooking at Voujon this month. Barry Shelby savours the differences.
Don’t let the celebrity TV chef con you. Cooking at a restaurant is barely comparable to cooking at home.
Consider the battery of assistants many restaurants have on hand. Then there are the recipes: loads of preparation, specific ingredients and techniques.
If one considers what may broadly be termed ‘ethnic’ cuisine in Great Britain, that introduces another element to this chasm. However authentic you might believe your local Indian or Chinese restaurant to be, the chances are about 99.99 to 1 that the dishes have been adapted, as they say, for the ‘local palate’.
Salim Miah of Voujon restaurant in Edinburgh’s Southside is keen to let the public see how different cooking in a typically Scottish/ Bangladeshi household can be from what he serves in his dining room. On 24 January, a ‘special handicook menu’ will feature dishes such as murghor bora, which are chicken-filled rolls similar to spring rolls, and milawat bhaji, a mix of exotic Asian vegetables.
Some of the differences probably come as no surprise. The restaurant versions are usually milder than at home and food colouring is often added to make the meals more attractive.
Other changes involve basic issues. Often food is eaten with bare hands at sub-continental homes. So a meat dish is less likely to be swimming in a rich sauce. It is hard to imagine (although it would be possible) for a Scottish restaurant to expect its patrons to eat their tea without the benefit of cutlery.
Recently, Miah allowed me to sample various dishes prepared at home by his wife, and ostensibly the same courses as they are done at Voujon. Lamb bhuna, home-style, is served as small chops on the bone, spicier and drier than the restaurant’s version of slowly cooked meat in a tomato-based sauce. Chicken korma offers similar contrasts. Home cooked, the coconut flavouring is more obvious, although the individual pieces are a bit grey compared with the creamy and much sweeter alternative done in Voujon, with its intensely bright yellow colour.
At hom chapatis are the norm rather than naan, which requires a tandoori oven - equipment the average South Asian household will not have. At home, too, it is much more likely for the women to be in charge of the kitchen, which is rarely the case at Indian restaurants.
Why do a meal? Miah says it was because his customers kept asking him: ‘Is this what you eat at home?’ ‘I wanted to give the customer a chance,’ Miah says. ‘And to give the ladies a chance to cook. Let people taste the difference.’
If this month’s special meal goes well, Miah might do it regularly. Regardless, he is keen to get more ‘authentic’ items into Voujon’s repertoire. Already, with advance notice, diners can request a whole leg of lamb. Next to come is a whole fish, served on the bone, sourced from the Bay of Bengal.
Voujon, 107 Newington Road, 0131 667 5046. Call to book the ‘special handicook meal’, three courses for £17.95.