The Hot 100 2018: #50 Sikh Sanjog

The Hot 100 2018: #50 Sikh Sanjog

We go behind the pass at social enterprise café Punjabi Junction to find a group of women using traditional cooking skills to support and encourage each other

Sikh Sanjog is a female-led community charity focusing primarily on the needs of women and girls in Edinburgh's Sikh and minority ethnic community. Looking forward to celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019, the charity offers three main services: wellbeing groups for older women, groups for young mums, and lively youth clubs. Punjabi Junction sits at the heart of the charity – a social enterprise café providing a much-needed income stream, training opportunities and an important hook into the broader Leith community, as social enterprise manager Sinita Potiwal explains: 'Back in 2010, we knew we needed to find a way to control our financial destiny. All young Sikh women are taught to cook; we realised the people who used our service were also a brilliant resource. We started off sharing a kitchen space with the YWCA at Dr Bell's and things grew from there.'

Punjabi Junction is a bright and vibrant space, offering the kind of traditional Sikh Punjabi home-cooking it's impossible to find elsewhere in the city. The café has legions of die-hard fans (as well as celebrity admirers in the shape of Madhur Jaffrey and Paul Hollywood) but Potiwal admits it's not always been plain sailing. 'We had these amazing home cooks, but we had to create a professional kitchen. We had to write recipes down, get costings right and learn how to promote ourselves. Then we had to encourage the women out of the kitchen to interact with people, whether that was taking orders or dealing with suppliers. Watching their confidence grow has always been the most rewarding thing.'

Sustaining a café is never easy, especially in high-rent, high-competition Edinburgh. Potiwal credits the Leith community as one of the main reasons for their success. 'We wanted to be in Leith because that's where our women lived and we didn't want travel to be a barrier to participation. But what's been amazing is the way Leithers have opened their arms to us – from the wee boy who comes in for chicken pakora every week after his karate class, to our older guests who say our food reminds them of a time when "curry tasted like curry". Our regulars are amazing.'

Punjabi Junction is slap-bang in the middle of the proposed Drum redevelopment, which has been the focus of a sustained, and sometimes heated, campaign to #SaveLeithWalk. At time of going to press, the café is surrounded by boarded-up shops and an on-again-off-again graffiti campaign. But Potiwal sees only opportunity for the future. 'We are still very much open for business but obviously we are running different scenarios for the years ahead. The Sikh community has spread through the city – should we go with it? What's to stop us popping-up in Sighthill, for example? Or perhaps we should focus more on our event catering, or cooking classes? We don't have the answers but we're absolutely confident that Punjabi Junction will survive and thrive as long as there is a need for the services it supports through Sikh Sanjog.'