When Imran Rahman’s mother fell off a bus and sprained her ankle, it was up to her 12-year-old son to provide dinner.
“I was in and out of that kitchen asking her, ‘Am I doing it right?’” said Rahman on Monday morning, stood behind the cash register of his shop Asian Food on Mary Street.
Since he cobbled together that first potato curry for his mum, he has continued to pick up the tricks of tasty cooking. “Indian cooking, the base is almost always the same and then it’s what you add into it,” he says.
From Baba’s Deli at the back of his shop, he serves quick finger food and traditional sauces, simple dishes that burst with flavour and spices.
If the food is spicy then that’s just “the way we eat it at home”, he says.
Crisp and Fresh
“Baba” is the name Rahman’s children affectionately call him, a title in widespread use throughout Pakistan; his parents are originally from Faisalabad in the Punjab region.
Born in Cork, he moved from Limerick to Tullamore to Dublin. He started as a kitchen porter and worked his way up to commis chef before opening his shop 13 years ago.
For now Baba’s Deli offers simple food. Rahman wanted to start with some basic favourites before branching out into more ambitious dishes.
There are vegetable samosas to one side, and chicken samosas on the other, separated by golden, fresh aloo tikki, a kind of potato cake. “There’s no waiting around, just get what you want,” says Rahman, of the food on offer.
A customer approaches, orders the biryani and grabs some samosas to go. But not before Rahman offers one of the half-dozen sauces to go with it.
“We don’t want to slack here or lose flavour,” he tells me. “If something’s spicy we’ll serve a mint sauce with it. Even our chutneys are going to be spicy.”
One sauce is just pure, blitzed green chilies.
Rahman’s samosas are hot; their crispy shells give way to a muddle of fresh vegetables. The aloo tikki have none of the gluey texture often found in potato cakes.
In addition to his shop, and now deli, Rahman and his wife Faiza offer cooking classes for anyone hoping to nail down the basics of Punjabi cuisine. For €25 an hour, in-store, Rahman says it doesn’t take long to get things down.
“Within two to three hours we’ll leave you with the knowledge of basic Indian cooking,” he says. They plan to launch their own YouTube cooking channel.
Cheap and Cheerful
“We want volume most of all,” says Rahman of his and Faiza’s food.
The prices are written in chalk on the walls of their new deli: the dry-rub tandoori chicken leg comes in at €2.50, the samosas at two for €3, the aloo tikki at €1.50 and pakoras for 75 cents.
The vegetable biryani, dal chawal (lentils and rice) and chicken tikka mains cost €5 each. Today’s special, a biryani and tandoori chicken leg, is €6.50.
It doesn’t need to be pricey like some restaurants in Dublin, says Rahman. As he sees it, Baba’s is more authentic than some of those. “I’m not trying to put restaurants down, but, people say to me, it’s not what we eat at home,” he says.
The majority of the food at Baba’s is vegetarian. In the coming weeks, Rahman plans to roll out more and more dishes.
He hasn’t served it yet, but his favourite, spinach and lamb with white rice, might have to feature. “It’s mind-blowing,” he says. “I could just eat that all day.”