If you've ever seen Qawwali singers in action you can easily imagine them working up a serious appetite. A Qawwali 'Party' comprises of a main singer and his 'support - other male singers who provide a clapping accompaniment. The performance is charged with energy and the whole effect is mesmeric. Once 'in the zone' they can sing their devotional songs of praise for hours and Nusrat Fateh ali Khan remains the most famous exponent of recent times.
Nusrat was a man with a large appetite for devotion... and food. After his concerts, particularly at the Hackney Empire in London, the eatery of choice for Nusrat was the Lahore One Kebab House (218 Commercial Road). The owner Mohammed Anjum is, in his own way, a patron of the arts and was always delighted to host Nusrat and his band of singers. I've visited several times and am happy to see his restaurant is well reviewed. If you ever go, try the kheer; I've never really been a huge fan of rice pudding but theirs is truly delicious - incredibly thick and creamy.
Of course in this part of London it's all about the kebabs. Mohammed's is one of several Pakistani restaurants in the area - the most well known being the Lahore Kebab House on Umberston Street.
This restaurant has undergone a transformation since my first visit and is now a spacious, glistening, stone clad version of its former self. It's easy to bemoan the loss of 'character' in a place but it is a far cry from the cramped, dingy original restaurant.
I worked with head chef Mohammed Azeem on the Madhur Jaffrey series "Curry Nation" and if you ever wondered how it is that restaurants are always able to create the same taste then here's the very simple answer - they use packets of ready mixed spices - from memory it was 'Shan' spices.
This was a real surprise to me given that I thought they'd have closely guarded recipes for their spice mixes. What has happened is a revolution in spicing which has really gone by unnoticed. Vacuum packing mean that restaurants in the UK, and for anywhere else on the globe for that matter, can buy freshly ground spice mixtures. Gone are the days of tubs of 'Curry Powder' or generic 'Madras' . Nowadays you can get spice mixtures for all sorts of styles and even specific ingredients. Restaurants love them as they get a good, consistent tasting product that also saves time and you too can use them and get that same 'curry house' taste. The downside is blandness - in the sense of uniformity (you'd never describe Mohammed's food as tasting bland!).
I watched him cook a 'Nihari', (curried lamb shanks) a real favourite amongst Pakistanis. To make the sauce he used Shan's Nihari mixture combined with a few extra spices - chilli, cumin, coriander etc.
For the Nihari recipe we were writing for the 'Curry Nation' book we couldn't exactly say, now add a box of Nihari spice mix". Hardly Madhur Jaffrey. So I drew on the list of ingredients on the box and one of Madhur's own nihari recipes to devise something that was not an exact copy and could be made from relatively common spices - without 'long pepper' for example. I think what we created for the book has an excellent flavour and is true to the nihari 'style'. It does beg the question what is 'authentic'?, apart from an experience sought after by Indian food aficianados.
Of course the answer to that is - no one really knows.