Although it was the Gujaratis of East Africa who first made their home in the Belgrave area of Leicester, later waves of immigrants from India-proper, especially from the Punjab, arrived to the city, bringing with them their own regional dishes and ingredients. Though Punjabi food is perhaps best represented in Southall (a kind of mini-Amritsar in the heart of suburban West London), you can still enjoy authentic versions of this famous Indian cuisine amid Belgrave’s myriad Gujarati-owned paan, farsan and thali outlets.
For an authentic, worker-style breakfast, (known in Punjabi as nashta) I opted for Punjab Palace, an unassuming little café diner run by a friendly elderly couple cooking up traditional fare out of what looks like their home kitchen. Here I went for a simple mooli paratha with dahi, a thick, low-fat yoghurt, and a sweet masala tea. Hearty and filling, this was the sort of solid, starchy breakfast designed to keep you going until lunchtime.
Despite feeling happy and full, I was already eagerly planning my next meal, which I’d decided was to be the iconic vegetarian dish chole bhatura, a medium-spicy chickpea curry served with bhatura, a puffy fried bread rich in carbs and calories. For this, I headed down the road to Sharmilee, something of an institution in these parts and popular with local Punjabis and non-Punjabis alike. Doubling up as a caterer for lavish Punjabi wedding feasts, the place is packed pretty much every time I walk past, and the plates of food always look copious and appealing. Indeed, chole bhatura was hearty and delicious, and exuded a rich, satisfying home-cooked flavour.
As a way to round off my brief foray into the cuisine of the Punjab, I couldn’t quite resist a couple more snacks back at Punjab Palace. First, a papdi chaat, basically a plate of Indian crisps and chickpeas blended with a spicy tamarind and yoghurt sauce, and a cloying cham cham sweet to round off yet another wonderful culinary adventure.
131A Melton Rd
71 Belgrave Rd