This interview was initially published on another of my blogs. That blog doesn’t exist anymore, but it’d be sad to see this interview go too, so I’m re-publishing it here. It’s an interview with my former London neighbour and Tooting, my old home and a London hotspot for curries and anything Indian. Enjoy!
Pete used to be my Tooting neighbour. He still lives there, while my family moved away 2 years ago. Tooting, a South London neighbourhood, is famous for its many Indian restaurants. Pete loves Indian food, he loves it so much that he’s created several curry projects over the years. I’ve talked to him about Tooting, Indian food and all his projects.
Pete, tell us about yourself
My name’s Pete, and I’m a self-confessed Curry addict. I’ve been to India five times, and I love the cuisine, the culture and the people. I’ve lived in Tooting for 15 years.
How many years ago and how did your first curry project start?
The Tooting Curry Club started nearly fourteen years ago. My flatmate and I counted all the Indian restaurants in Tooting, and realised there were at least 35 of them. So we thought “why not try them all, and rate them to find the best ones”. So we were gathering some friends, and hence the Curry Club was born.
What are your curry projects now?
The Curry Club is still going strong, and actually has over 500 members and several co-organisers since moving it onto an online social platform called Meetup.
I’ve also started an Indian Recipe Blog, as an outlet for my passion for cooking Indian food and for sharing my recipes with other people who like to cook with a bit of spice.
I also run the South London Chilli Sauce Championships, which is in its fifth year. Contestants enter their own homemade chilli sauces which are voted for by the public. Everyone gets a taste, and a scoring card, with prizes and trophies for the winners. Last year we had 27 entries. Chilli sauce is clearly a popular thing!
Which brings me to my final project. I’ve recently started my own chilli sauce company called “Chilli Badger”. I have ten sauces in the range, including Dragon’s Flame, Firefly, Blazing Banana and Yellow Peril. Website coming soon
What do you love about living in Tooting?
I love that Tooting has a nice ethnic mix of people, interesting local stores and a bustling market. It hasn’t been completely taken over by big name chain stores, nor has it been overrun by young professionals and “yuppies”. You can get your hair cut at Indian barbers for £5, you can buy fresh flowers from a stall outside the tube station and you can get a tattoo at the fabulously named “TootInk”. It has character, and a certain raw edge that you don’t find in other suburbs. Oh, and it also has the largest open air swimming pool in the UK! (97 metres long)
Anything you don’t like about Tooting?
A few companies such as Starbucks are starting to make an entrance, which could impact local independent businesses
Back to the curries. What was your most interesting/weirdest curry occurrence?
I once ordered the “Chef’s Special” in a restaurant, without asking what it was, on the basis that there is no Indian food I don’t like. The dish arrived and it was a giant pig’s trotter sitting in a bowl of spicy sauce. We passed it around the table, but no-one had any idea how to eat it. I picked up the whole trotter and took a nibble, but it was tough and not very tasty! That restaurant didn’t last very long before closing down.
Which is your favourite Indian restaurant in Tooting?
For North Indian food, it’s Samrat, which has been in Tooting since the 70’s. Rich, delicious sauces and friendly staff, with classic Indian decor including paintings and etched glass. For Sri-Lankan and South Indian cuisine, definitely Dosa’n’Chutney. They aren’t afraid to hit you with a bit of chilli heat, but without compromising flavour.
Your favourite Indian dish?
Chicken Dhansak. A hot, sweet and sour dish cooked with lentils
How many Indian restaurants in London have you visited? Where are the best?
I’ve visited over 60 Indian restaurants in London. I’ve had some stunning meals, but for me, Tooting remains the best place to get a decent curry.
Which are your favourite Indian food related shops in Tooting?
There are dozens scattered all over Tooting, pretty much selling similar things. The best by far is a hidden gem. I don’t know it’s name, or if it even has one. From the outside it looks like a small shop, but when you head inside it’s like Aladdin’s Cave. It’s a giant shop which has actually been knocked through to the adjoining property. There is nothing you can’t buy there, and plenty of mysterious food and vegetables which I don’t even know what to do with (yet).
Anything else you’d like to add?
Quite simply, if you want one of the best curries in London, forget Brick Lane with it’s overpriced and substandard tourist fare. Head to Tooting. You won’t be disappointed.
Photo credits: AML Photo, London