Developing Pakistani street food with Manchester chai café, Aunty Ji’s

Earlier this month, we had a chat with our friends at Tastewise about emerging opportunities with Pakistani food, with the AI-based food intelligence platform revealing a number of interesting pieces of data on the progress of the South Asian cuisine in the UK.

“Pakistani cuisine, already well known in the UK, accelerated in interest during the early months of the pandemic,” said Tastewise.

“After a peak last summer, interest in Pakistani food and beverage has stabilized at a much higher rate than before the pandemic, growing 38% YoY (and 4% MoM on average).”

Tastewise also delved into regional rises in interest, with menu mentions of Pakistani dishes up 42% YoY in Manchester.

Consumer interest in Pakistani cuisine is up +17% YoY in the city, with home eating occasions of Pakistani cuisine, in particular, showing a +10% YoY increase in interest.

Coincidently, our head of NPD – Ben Peatfield – has been working with a South Asian chai café in Manchester, Aunty Ji’s, on redeveloping their Pakistani-focused street-food menu.

Over the course of several months, Ben has transformed the Aunty Ji’s food menu, developing and introducing a number of dishes – with street food as a focus – combining both contemporary and traditional for a quirky play of Pakistani and south-east Asian cuisine.

“Pakistani influence is becoming increasingly obvious in the UK. There are a number of restaurants that are based on the theme of Indian street food – of which there is much cross over with Pakistani,” says Ben.

“Punjab, after all, is a state split between the two countries. The theme seems strong, and I think chai adds additional USP.

“As such, I expect to see more chai shops popping up across the UK soon.”

Here, Ben takes us through three of the products he developed with Aunty Ji’s, including their first bottled chilli sauce, made in collaboration with small batch producer, DevilDog.

Dundicut, Apricot & Black Cardamon Chilli Sauce

“With hot sauces so on-trend right now, and people moving away from the traditional salty or tangy varieties, we thought we’d create an artisanal South Asian hot sauce as a new option for increasingly curious consumers.

“We decided to collaborate with a brilliant local producer from Levenshulme (Manchester) by the name of DevilDog.

“Liam Kirwan, head honcho of DevilDog, was formerly a senior figure at Hawksmoor (among many other foodservice roles) before he decided to take the plunge into the world of sauces. Being local too, he seemed like the perfect partner.

“Liam’s approach is to often pair sweet with hot – utilizing interesting fruits and rare chillies. The little known dundicut chilli is native to Pakistan, Nepal and parts of India – so naturally for a South Asian brand it was the perfect choice.

“We used apricots to bring a nice colour and sweetness, then the unique flavour of black cardamon to add a smokey complexity. What we created was almost a sweet chipotle sauce. Not too hot, universally acceptable but the combination of flavours really did turn out as something special, and unique.”

Samosa Chaat

“This is a traditional Pakistani street food dish, consisting of smashed samosas, curried chickpeas and a tangy yoghurt sauce.”

“It’s an absolute staple for anyone from Pakistan, and can be food in any good Pakistani restaurant in the UK too. We wanted to take this dish and elevate it.

“We began by creating a delicious warm curried chickpea sauce, a spiced potato based samosa, and a garlic yoghurt. But the true stroke of genius, if I say so myself, was developing a tamarind BBQ sauce.

“Tamarind is an often used condiment in South Asian cuisine and we wanted to give it a level of complexity that you wouldn’t normally associate with it. Again, a few secret spices and utilizing plenty of black cardamon we were able to create a deep, smokey, tangy condiment.

“When the dish is eaten as a whole the four pieces come together in a way we actually weren’t expecting. Genuinely delicious yet still a homage to the old school Pakistani staple.”

Chilli Paneer

“Chilli paneer isn’t a typical Pakistani dish, to some extent it could argued it isn’t Indian either.

“When Chinese migrants, some 250 years ago, moved to Kolkata they started cooking street food in the style they knew best – wok fried. And using their favourite condiments from back home.

“However, without full access to all Chinese products, these expats innovated and started combining Indian traditional ingredients with Chinese. Thus Chilli paneer was born.

“This is a quick-fried paneer, ginger, garlic, pepper and coriander dish with one vital ingredient which makes this truly epic – soy sauce. I have always had a particularly soft spot for chilli paneer, having spent a portion of my life in Harrow where Indo-Chinese food is rife.

“It’s not for the faint-hearted – expect lots of heat but tonnes of flavour.”

Tom Gatehouse
Tom Gatehouse
Tom is the editor and co-founder of PURE NPD. Formerly the deputy editor of trends and innovations hub Food Spark, Tom has had chef training in 50 top kitchens across the UK and Europe and is a former Restaurant magazine columnist. Tom has also served as a judge for the 50 Best BBVA Scholarship.

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