Jas Sansi visits Gateway to India in Birmingham’s Westside BID and writes about the explosion of Street Food in Brum.
Pretty safe to safe, Street Food has become the buzz word for eating out in 2017. I’ve enjoyed three Indian Restaurants in Birmingham in recent weeks, opened to deliver this very concept. It’s curious, eating Indian food in restaurants has reverted to the very origin of those in search of a meal, eating out at pop up stalls.
I remember visiting my dad’s family home in Punjab back in the 1970s. It was a long time ago in many ways and not just in the passage of time. We flew from Heathrow, a name barely a decade old since the change from London Airport and a year after the Piccadilly Line of the Underground unveiled a station at what was to become the world’s busiest airport.
One of my first memories of landing in Delhi was the sheer number of people, noise, sounds, bustle and chaos. Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure for a six year old struggling with his first taste of jet lag.
A seven hour train journey out of the capital awaited us. We rattled across the dusty plains of a country that had fought and achieved independence only thirty years earlier. I spent much of the journey fighting sleep and staring out of the windowless frames onto the parallel Great Trunk Road.
The travel writer, Paul Theroux had made the opposite journey from Amritsar to Delhi four years earlier and wrote about it in The Great Railway Bazaar; ‘Indian railway stations are wonderful places for killing time in, and they are like scale models of Indian society, with its division of caste, class and sex: SECOND-CLASS LADIES’ WAITING ROOM, BEARERS’ ENTRANCE, THIRD-CLASS EXIT, FIRST-CLASS TOILET, VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT, NON-VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT, RETIRING ROOMS, CLOAKROOM, and the whole range of occupations on office signboards, from the tiny one saying SWEEPER, to the neatest of all, STATION-MASTER.’
Disembarking at Jallandhar Railway Station after dark, we transferred to one of the few motor vehicles seen since leaving the capital. The shopping area near to the family home was cloaked in darkness. Illumination offered only from oil lamps swinging on the carts of peanut sellers and snack stalls; my first introduction to Street Food in all its raw setting. It would prove to be a life long love affair.
Gateway to India underneath Jimmy Spices on Broad Street is the latest Indian restaurant offering street food. You can experience the food that built a nation within the comfort of a fine dining environment. It is a window on the past from the comfort of the present.
The interior is cream floor tiles and dark wood. It feels colonial and will age well. The fine dining interior differentiates it from other Indian Street food offerings in Birmingham and that of chains such as Dishoom in London. It is located just behind Broad Street on Regency Wharf, next to Hyatt Regency.
Street food in India and across Asia is a reality of every day living rather than a dining concept. It exists to feed workers inexpensively and quickly feeding the growth of the economy one sheesh kebab and aloo tikka at a time.
Street food offered a gateway into business for sole traders in India with little capital to establish a permanent premises. The partition of India after World War Two created displacement of millions of men, women and children who found themselves on the wrong side of the line when a border was established across Punjab. Chaos created opportunity.
Gateway to India has a slick kitchen visible from the dining room. It is here dishes familiar on the streets of Jallandhar, Delhi and Mumbai transform diners to the oil lamp illuminated bazaars of the India I experienced five decades ago.
The dish above is my personal favourite and has been ever since I was young. Chole Bhatura is a dish of chick peas in a spicy sauce served with fried bread. There’s a serving of chutney if you want to add dynamite to the fireworks party in your mouth. It’s a signature dish in India which remains a predominantly vegetarian country. Vegans can also enjoy this iconic offering. It is probably the best £6.50 you can spend in Brum.
For those of you who consider vegetarian food to be a side show, you will be delighted with the options to satisfy the carnivore in you. Chicken tikka and prawns fresh from the tandoori oven are stunning in presentation, texture and taste.
The sheer array of choice means a single visit only allows a fraction of the menu to be experienced. Going as a large group will certainly bring greater choice to the table, just don’t assume everyone is happy to share their preferred item.
Subsequent visits to India have unveiled change. The age where oil lamp illuminated street food vendors enjoyed a monopoly in feeding the masses is slowly being extinguished. The emerging middle class want their own fine dining options.
Having breakfast recently in the Shangri La, New Delhi, a server walked around the dining floor distributing tea in replica clay cups. I remember drinking from the real thing during that train journey so many years ago. The cups back then were smashed after drinking the tea. A five star hotel with a environmental commitment offers no such unsustainable choice.
The great chef, Anton Mossiman once said the first bite is always with the eye. As a photographer, I salute his words. Contact details and further images from Gateway to India’s menu below. Hail a rickshaw and enjoy.
Gateway to India – http://www.thegatewaytoindia.co.uk
6a Regency Wharf, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2DS
0121 643 8000
Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer in Birmingham, a trustee of LoveBrum, columnist for The Asian Today and blogger for Downtown in Birmingham.
@jassansi 07930 837 505 firstname.lastname@example.org