Bradford, often dubbed as “Bradistan” as seen in the legendary movie “East is East”, has the largest population of Pakistanis in England. When I moved from London to Bradford back in 2006, I can still recall how disappointed my new classmates were when they found out I was just another Pakistani. Yes, there are that many of us…
Desi kaana or desi food is central to the lives of Pakistani’s and South Asian’s alike. We simply cannot exist without our saalan (curries), desi chai or achaar. Traditional saalan dishes are very aromatic. That magical concoction of desi goodness bursting with garlic, ginger, turmeric, coriander and garam masaala, is a scent to be reckoned with. Compared to the blandness of English dishes, we South Asian’s have the flavour aspect of cooking cornered (no offence).
There is nothing like walking along the streets of Bradford, heading towards your destination, when, lo and behold! You detect the mouth watering scent of saalan. As you can imagine, fasting during the month of Ramadaan is particularly trying if you live in Bradford.
Even though each dish contains the same staple ingredients, each dish has a different scent because it has been made by a different hand. Each recipe whispers of the tried and tested, sometimes disastrous attempts passed down from generations of Auntie-Jees, Grandmothers and Mothers, eventually resulting in a final, golden recipe.
Smells have the uncanny ability to act as memory triggers. I can still remember the scent of saalan and Kashmir Crown Bakeries cake rusk wafting through the streets in some of my early visits to Bradford as a young girl. They remind me of happier times of family and togetherness, and loveable 1st generation elderly folk whose staple diet constituted of this pungent desi kaana and nothing else.
I’m painting a warm and fuzzy, nostalgic picture here. But I’m sure many of us can recall a time when fellow classmates who sat next to us would pinch their nose as if we were some sort of a curry skunk. The smell of saalan sticks to hair and clothes like glue. Anyone within a 10 mile radius would be able to smell you.
Food is integral to the family dynamic of a Pakistani household. In our day to day activities, we bustle around to and fro like bees in a hive. Dinner time is an event that unites a family, even if it is for an instant. I can vividly recall my Mother cooking away in the kitchen with the propensity of a whirl wind, my 3 siblings and I waiting at the dining table, empty plates in front of us, waiting with grumbling stomachs for the final unveiling of her legendary saalan dish. The smell of the cooking always preceded it’s grand entrance into the dining room, so we would always know what she had cooked before she even told us.
If ever you find yourself in Bradford, smell that air and savour it; that scent is the scent of love and all that is homely. I can guarantee that you won’t find many places where the air is laced with the smell of traditional South-Asian cooking.
They say home is where the heart is. But for me, home is where the scent of saalan is.