The tastes and sites I’ve been introduced to because of a simple friendly exchange have been priceless. I met Avtar a second generation southeast Londoner who was traveling for work in a small village pub in Ireland a few weeks back. Everyone was chatting about the football lottery and our jovial exchange about splitting that weeks £6000 pot led to an hour long visit and emails shared, which led to him graciously hosting us to a serendipidous night Punjabi style !
Meeting up in the western London borough of Ealing, an area known as “Little India”, Avtar drove us up the long bustling high street of Southall where even at dusk the colorful shop fronts were buzzing with locals darting in and out with bulging shopping bags and sidewalks overflowing with Indian bling and fresh veg stalls. Oh how i would have loved to have stopped and shopped properly! At the end of this very long shopping district we arrived at the humble final block and descended upon the corner tuck shop were we bought an ample supply of Cobra lager (when in Rome…) as it was a B.Y.O. destination. Armed with refreshments we walk 3 steps and were in Avtar’s favorite haunt, The Desi Tadka. It was a modest looking takeaway with delicious smells and sounds smacking you in the face as you first enter and loud music thumping out Indian dance tunes. Upon further inspection in the back, was a brightly lit dining area full of big wooden tables and seats with dramatic decor points of the Indian homeland. My anticipation and excitement at the first taste of real Indian food was getting tough to contain. We wisely left the nights course selection to Avtar, his exchanges with the friendly waiters in the local dialect found us quick and delightful
service and the night produced a steady flow of exotically spiced meats and sauces at the table. The flavor combinations were so complex yet so distinctive if one sat and truly savored each delectable bite. The cardamon, the cumin, the ginger, the chilies (of various degrees) the nutmeg and garlic , were all similar but significantly different and amazing in each dish. Culturally all you will find is fish chicken and lamb in a place like this, refraining from beef and pork on the menu so as to attract both Hindu and Muslim clientele, but with flavors like this, one would never miss it. The staff and manager were so hospitable allowing me to visit a while with the chefs at the front counter, watching them work their magic as sauces simmered on the stove and the tandoori was continuously being filled with long skewers of heavenly seasoned meats. This local eatery has been packing them in for 8 years and besides the delicious offerings one of the attractions are the dancing waiters on the weekends. Unfortunately it was only Thursday but after a little visiting and flashing of my Midwestern smile, before long the rhythmic music began to crescendo and a beautifully smocked barefoot waiter appeared from the backroom to great cheers of revelry especially from the large back table of local footballers who were already in great celebration mode. This video is just a small bit of the high energy and merriment the room held.
deliciously spicy foods can range from whisky to rum to beer, the traditional underground drink of choice is “Desi” aka Tharra. A distilled homebrew made from a long and arduous process of fermented sugar cane pulp, wheat and fennel, it was to me more reminiscent of rum than of moonshine but equally as potent. It just so happened that after a bit of friendly conversation, someone knew someone that knew someone that put on his coat and disappeared out the door only to return a short time later to our table with a mini bar bottle of clear liquid. Upon inspection of this clandestine libation, with “legs” slipping down the glass side like a fine old singlemalt scotch, and the
sweetness of aroma wafting over the glass edge.The first taste found a hint of fennel with that sweet fragrance undertone of the sugar cane and a lovely finish of homebrew warmth on the way down. I was In love. I’ve been fortunate to find safe sources for many a cultural moonshine and this one takes the cake so far! An amazing night of new friendships, unforgettable tastes and cultural exchange. The Punjabi live by the philosophy of eat, drink and be merry and boy did we come to the right place to soak up a bit of that !