Profile: Glasgow’s spicelord Monir Mohammed
Glasgow doesn’t need an official title to know it’s still the curry capital of Britain
Glasgow prides itself on being the curry capital of Britain, even if it doesn’t always walk away with the official title – the city missed out last time by the narrowest of public votes. There are curries available, and pretty good ones too, on just about every street. But when Monir Mohammed opened Mother India in 1990, he helped to raise the bar.
In his book Mother India At Home, he recalls: ‘When I joined the Indian restaurant scene in the 1970s and 80s a lot of Indian restaurants were doing similar things as each other, creating a style of Indian cooking that was anglicised and not always that authentic. I wanted to break away from the norm and introduce a style of Indian dining that had greater ties to its roots in the Punjab.’
Though Mohammed was born and raised in Glasgow, his family had spent time in both Scotland and Pakistan, and on one prolonged visit he was made to look after his parents there, including cooking daily meals. Although he was reluctant to leave Glasgow it turned out to be ‘one of the most important learning curves’ of his life.
‘And in this respect I have been very lucky,’ he goes on. ‘The experience of having to go back to the Punjab and having to learn to cook the core principles of Indian food is not one that many chefs can speak of. When I was there, it made me want to bring the real Punjabi cuisine home to Glasgow and I have stuck to that principle, despite sometimes being advised that it was not a good idea.’
Monir is first and foremost a Glasgow man, and he relishes the coming together of Indian and Glaswegian attitudes through food. He says: ‘One of the joys of Indian food and culture is that it breaks down boundaries. There is no pretence, formality or ceremony at mealtimes, and our food is more accessible to a wider spectrum of budgets than almost any other type of cuisine. People from all walks of life rub elbows at our tables and they tuck into their meals with the same vigour, enthusiasm and enjoyment.’
The chef-patron focuses on home-style cooking and dishes such as butter chicken, spiced haddock with tomato, ginger and green chilli, fish pakora and Delhi-style Scottish lamb are staples of his restaurants. These dishes, prepared to order, reflect Monir’s commitment to serving high-quality, imaginative Indian food, a world away from identikit kormas. ‘Today as always, the menus at all our Mother India outlets reflect this authenticity. It is something that will never change,’ he explains.