Ever since Asma Khan introduced me to the Kolkatan kati roll through Darjeeling Express, I’ve had a soft spot for these snacks. Comprising a kebab cradled in a soft’n’tender paratha, the finest – at least in my eyes – include an omelette-like egg layer, a scattering of red onion and coriander, a decent douse of lime juice, and perhaps a smear of chutney. If double egg is an option, I’m at least twice as likely to be tempted.
So needless to say, I was rather miffed when I missed not only Raastawala’s by-all-accounts-amazing kati rolls when the Indian street foodies rolled into town for a local food festival… but also the Hackney pop-up series that saw the team dabbling with Dhaba-style roadside fare.
My kati roll craving will have to wait – but in the meantime I caught up with founder Rinku Dutt to talk trade secrets, foodgasms, and why there will soon be plenty more on the menu for me – and you – to tuck into…
How did Raastawala come about?
It’s a story of love and discovery; of two British born Bengalis, their heritage, and Kolkata street eats! Raastawala is the baby of me and my husband Neelan. We married in Kolkata, the old colonial capital of the British Raj. Friends had travelled from all over the globe to be with us, and we took them to Nizam’s – the institution that created the kati roll. The expressions of pure pleasure on their faces were priceless, and we knew we had to introduce those same delights back home in the UK.
Where do you trade?
Anywhere there are food-lovers! Typically, festivals and pop-ups. Since we started, we’ve done Lounge in the Farm, Pexmas and Munch Food in Peckham, Canterbury Food and Drink Festival – which got us in the local press, Whitstable Oyster Festival, Eat Drink Waltham Forest, Bite Street Food Festival, and Harringay’s Chestnuts Market. And we just took our ‘dhaba’ roadside dining experience to Stage 3 in Hackney over a series of nights.
Which Raastawala recipes have proved most popular?
The Kolkata kati roll which started everything for us, and our very own ‘spicy water bombs’ – our signature take on the snack known traditionally and variously as pani puri, golgappa, or, in Bengal, puchka.
Make me green with envy – what’s your finest formula for the perfect kati roll?
Hehehe – a trade secret! Suffice to say we fill a full twelve inches of the fluffiest flatbread with the most tender tandoori chicken, finger-lickin’ lamb, or cheeky chickpeas, drizzle it with rich raita and some other very tasty sauces and salads, then wrap it all up and just wait for you to foodgasm over your jumbo kati roll.
Is there anything you wanted to sell that people just didn’t ‘get’?
Not really, all the dishes that we have served up have been really well-received, even less well-known regional stuff. We have always wanted to keep things simple and fuss-free, and that shows in our food.
You don’t need to convince me, but to the uninitiated, what is so wonderful about Bengali food, and why should people try it?
Bengali food is made with love, and filled with intense flavours, even when a dish isn’t a rich one. One of the beauties of Kolkata is its bazaar, where customers go very early in the morning to get the best catch of the day.
Kolkata is also known as The City of Joy, and is alive with culture; art, poetry, music, dance, and ‘adda’ – the gathering of friends and family in order for them to chill, converse and eat together. Food and entertaining are core to family life.
Food can conjure vivid memories – what are your own fondest recollections?
There are so many! While growing up, the kitchen was always filled with aromas, whether from the delicacies my mother cooked up for the family or the breathtaking array of dishes that appeared during festivals and special occasions. It was always such an honour to host dinner at our place. Just watching our guests’ faces as the never-ending parade of food was brought out from the kitchen made me smile.
As an adult living in India, Sundays in our were for reserved for pure indulgence. In our flat, my maid would spend at least a few hours cooking up the most delectable dishes for the lunch that was the day’s main meal, all using freshly ground spices and fabulous ingredients.
Who in the whole world would you most like to feed?
At present I am actually getting most pleasure out of feeding my seven-month old daughter. She is not one for bland food, and it’s a real art trying to create tasty dishes with the simplest of ingredients; but the look on her face when she enjoys something I’ve made for her makes it all worth it.
Which Indian chefs, foodies and artisans do you most admire?
There are so many people who I admire and follow, but I have to say that it’s my parents who I hold in the greatest esteem. My dad is an absolutely amazing cook, as is my mother-in-law.
I admire them so much because for them everything is self taught, yet to the point of perfection. Cooking a meal for them gives me great satisfaction – if food gets the nod of approval from that pair, it means it’s good stuff!
What’s next for Raastawala?
The next Dhabaclub pop-up is going to be a Canterbury Tale, and we are also planning some more London events where people can devour all our street food delights… Stay tuned!
- Follow @Raastawala on Twitter and ‘Like’ Raastawala on Facebook
- For more on the beauty of Bengali food, click here
- For The Chaat Room interview with the Cheeky Food Co., click here
- For The Chaat Room interview with That Hungry Chef, click here