Spice girl of the west


A former city lawyer turned cook and writer is bringing her modern Pakistani food to Dublin. MARIE-CLAIRE DIGBYmeets the Pukka Paki, Sumayya Jamil

‘It’s meant to be provocative.” Sumayya Jamil is aware that Pukka Paki, the name she has given her London food business, is controversial. “People may be uncomfortable using it – it has been used in derogatory terms, sadly – but I want to bring the name Paki back to its roots because it has a good meaning, Paki means pure, and of course pukka has become part of the dictionary here.”

Jamil, an erudite and eloquent woman, was a lawyer working in the City before embarking on a new career teaching classes in Pakistani cooking, running supper clubs, and writing about her native cuisine for magazines, newspapers and in her popular blog, pukkapaki.com.

She is bringing her interpretation of Pakistani cooking, which is modern and vibrant while respecting tradition, to Dublin restaurant Kinara Kitchen in Ranelagh, for an event next Friday night, February 1st. Her 15-course menu of regional Pakistani dishes will be served with cocktails created to compliment the food by bar manager Paul Lambert.

“It was interesting working with a restaurant chef ,” Jamil says. She worked in the Kinara kitchen with head chef Rajendra Mohite as they adapted her home kitchen recipes to a restaurant setting. “There’s been good banter and I’ve learned a lot from it.”

The €80 a head banquet (cocktails included), at which Jamil will talk about the origins of her dishes, is being billed as a Girls’ Night. “I’ve seen a growing trend in girls eating out in groups,” says Kinara Kitchen co-owner Sean Collender who is confident that it will be a success despite the restriction.

The menu will begin with a selection of street food snacks, before seven regional meat, fish and vegetable dishes are served, family style, with nutty biryani, sweet nan, paratha and beetroot and jaggery raita on the side. The raita is one of three of Jamil’s recipes which were included in Madhur Jaffrey’s most recent book, Curry Nation.

Desserts will be a highlight of the night. “They’re one of my favourite things to make, not so much to eat, but to make definitely,” Jamil says. “I love feeding people, I am more of a feeder than an eater. People think that Pakistani desserts are heavy. My idea is to dispel that idea by bringing the flavours of Pakistani desserts into something more western, and bringing a few western flavours into Pakistani dishes.”

Combining ingredients and cooking techniques from global influences is something Jamil says she picked up from her mother. Her father was a captain in the merchant navy (he is now a lawyer in Pakistan) and the family often travelled with him. Long stints at sea – “seven, eight, nine months at a stretch”, meant that as a child Jamil’s formal education at that stage was done by correspondence course, while her culinary knowledge was cultivated by watching her mother cook things she had discovered on her travels.

“There was a lot of experimentation, something she probably wouldn’t have done had she been in Pakistan. My earliest memories are of my mother cooking on the ships, because there wasn’t a lot to do, she used to spend her time cooking.”

Jamil is keen to differentiate between Pakistani and Indian cuisine. “I never realised what a passion I had for Pakistani cuisine until I left, about seven years ago. I did always cook it but I didn’t realise I was so obsessed with the differences of our cuisine and it really hit me when I moved to the UK because I realised how boxed-in south Asian food was in terms of the generic term ‘Indian food’.

“When I said Pakistani food, people said ‘It’s all the same’, but there’s a distinct flavour and aroma and the methods of cooking are slightly different. And one of the differences between the Indian and the Pakistani is that we eat lots of meat, tons of meat, so that comes out in our cuisine.”

Jamil travels home to Pakistan regularly, and is currently researching a cookery book. “There is a real celebration of food in our country. There’s not a lot to do there except to eat – eating is our biggest pastime, so the restaurants boom in Pakistan. Every year I go home I find 15, 20 new restaurants opening up. The Pakistani’s greatest pleasure is eating.”

Girls’ Night at Kinara Kitchen, Friday, February 1st, tel: 01-4060066. See pukkapaki.com


Recipe by Sumayya Jamil. Serves 10-12

60-70g chopped peeled pears, stewed until soft with 1 tbsp sugar, one whole star anise and half a cinnamon stick

1 litre whole milk

1 can sweet condensed milk

50g whole milk powder

300g ricotta cheese

2 tsp cornflour, made into thin paste with a little water

half tsp ground star anise

half tsp ground cinnamon

1 pinch saffron

2 tsp rose water

50g chopped blanched almonds, toasted slightly

In a saucepan, on medium heat, boil the whole milk until it reduces a little (15-20 minutes). Add the condensed milk and stir until dissolved. Now add the ricotta, powdered milk, spices and almonds. Add the cornflour mixture to thicken. Add the stewed pears (without the whole spices)and rose water. Take the mixture off the heat and allow it to cool before pouring into kulfi moulds, or a loaf tin, and freeze for seven to eight hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, allow the kulfi to defrost for a few minutes, which will make it easier to slide out of the mould to serve or to slice.

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