Glasgow's Haggis Pakora Is More Than Just Fusion Food
“Scots and Punjabis are very proud of their own cultures so you get both of these coming together and it’s wonderful,” says Harry Singh, Glasgow restaurant owner and co-creator of the haggis pakora.
All photos by Harriet Grecian.
When it comes to food, Scotland has something of a mixed reputation. For every venison steak and langoustine, there are battered pizzas and deep-fried Mars bars, devoured by novelty-seeking tourists as they listen to bagpipes outside Edinburgh Castle.
Growing up in a Pakistani household, I wasn't exposed to many traditional Scottish foods. We got as far as fish and chips but even this had a Desi twist. White fish marinated in a garlic, ginger, and green chilli batter before being fried in breadcrumbs was a lot tastier than the local chippy's version.
That's not to say we don't take pride in our Scottish side. Unlike our English counterparts, Scottish-Asians are very patriotic. We wear kilts to weddings, we love whisky, and you'll know our life story if you ever sit next to us at a bus stop.
With this ingrained desire to merge two cultures, it seems only natural for Jazzy and Harry Singh, two Sikh brothers and Glasgow restaurant owners to develop a menu that includes haggis pakora, masala sea bass, and Punjabi mussels.
The pair are waiting outside their Punjabi Charing Cross restaurant when I arrive and begin by telling me about the time they convinced parking inspectors to stop harassing them for leaving their car in front of the restaurant by bribing them with pakoras.
"I think Scots and Punjabis are very proud of their own cultures so you get both of these coming together and it's wonderful," Harry says, as we take a seat inside. "Everyone here is proud of their own cooking and heritage and they're willing to show it by letting the world know about things like whisky and haggis. The richness of our foods work really well when mixed so you can tell that Scotland and South Asians flourish together."
Inside Punjabi, I notice small details like the tartan carpet and classic bar frontage that set it apart from the standard Glasgow curry house.
We talk about how South Asians always find European food tasteless unless it has at least 50 chillies in it. I tell Jazzy and Harry my family calls anything without spices "phikka" (bland) and they laugh in recognition.
"It's like when Punjabis go on holiday, they might be in Rome or Barcelona but they'll go around trying to find somewhere that sells spicy Desi food," Harry says. "It's a longing for that spice, that sensational burst. And it's becoming popular here with more and more fusion cuisine. You'll even see Indians using chorizo sausage—I think that's the influence of taking Punjabi food and putting all the spices together."
Authentic South Asian food is more than chicken tikka masala, something the brothers' restaurant proves by using local Scottish produce in decidedly un-Scottish ways.
Namely, that haggis pakora.
"It's something I always wanted to do," says Harry. "I always wanted to bring food from my heritage through the mainstream as well and see how it would go."
Pakora is most commonly made with fish, chicken, or potatoes. If you're being adventurous, you could try baby spinach leaves, aubergine, or paneer. Haggis, on the other hand is traditionally served on Burn's night—a sheep's stomach mixed with with oats, nutmeg, and black pepper dished out with neeps and tatties.
The brothers' take on the traditional recipe has become one of the restaurant's most popular dishes.
"We sell a lot of haggis pakora and people also love the sea bass," says Harry. "A lot of the Punjabi mussels as well—not very many people do Punjabi mussels but we get through a lot of them."
As we go into the kitchen, Jazzy starts to prepare the haggis. He adds the chickpea flour to thicken the pakora batter and chops the haggis into large chunks, before dipping them into the mix and dropping in the fryer.
After a few minutes, I help take the haggis pakoras out and arrange on a serving plate, where they're sprinkled with onions, dried parsley, and chaat masala—a mix of dried mango powder, pomegranate powder, cumin, coriander, ginger, and salt.
"A lot of things you have in Scotland, you also have back in the Punjab," says Jazzy. "We're trying to bring them together and show them off—you can do a lot with venison curry and both lamb or chicken on the bone with good local produce, and you can make it into very good Indian and Punjabi food with a Scottish twist."
With 20 years in the restaurant trade, the brothers aren't afraid of trialling more unusual dishes. Harry says he has ideas for future additions, including a tangy Punjabi chicken liver pâté which he "didn't tell too many people about, even when drunk."
"I've made it already and it turned out very nice," he says. "I'm trying to commercialise it and get it into the restaurant. I was having liver at home one day and I wondered if I could liquidise this and put it into the food processor and it smoothed to perfection. I was thinking to serve it with muthian [strips of Indian pastry], so basically you'd have a plate full of them, pick one up and put your pâté on it."
The restaurant's customers range from rowdy Punjabi crowds to students and curious tourists although not every dish has been as popular as their haggis.
"We also did Stornoway black pudding as a pakora and it didn't take off," says Harry. "I had the whole spicy apple chutney and it just didn't work. Maybe I should try it again. We also tried doing salmon as a curry and it's never worked."
While Scottish food is undergoing something of a PR overall, health-wise, the country is still referred to as the heart attack capital of Europe. But with more people drawn to traditional, locally produced dishes like haggis, perhaps this will change.
"I always wanted to do a Punjabi-style Burn's supper. I've never got round to it," says Harry, as we admire our haggis handiwork. "There's a problem with that. A lot of people on St Andrew's Day know what they want to do and on Burn's night they want a proper supper so it's difficult to pry them away from traditional."
If the brothers are able to pull of a Punjabi Burn's night, I'll be the first one there.