Glasgow’s belt-busting curry trail
Dallas Morning News
It’s 6 p.m. in Glasgow’s rush-hour-busy West End and I’ve just reacquainted myself with the joys of eating haggis. But rather than the standard lamb’s stomach served with neeps and tatties (that’s turnips and potatoes in the local vernacular) this version is a little different.
Haggis pakoras – deep-fried mini-balls of Scotland’s finest, lightly spiced and golden-battered – are a menu favorite at Mister Singh’s India. A family-run restaurant where several south Asian recipes are fused with intriguing Scottish influences, the waiters – all of Indian descent – wear kilts.
But the approach isn’t just tongue-in-cheek kitsch. Haggis works surprisingly well with some Indian dishes – which explains why I rapidly scoff six mouthwatering pakoras, served with mint chutney dip, within five minutes.
Luckily, the rest of my meal soon arrives to divert my attention.
The UK has fully embraced food from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in recent decades – newspapers here often report that chicken tikka masala rather than fish and chips is the country’s real national dish. But Glasgow, arrival point for generations of entrepreneurial immigrants, has long been a leader of the spicy pack.
And with three days to stuff myself silly and dozens of tempting restaurants to choose from, I’ve already decided this is my favorite curry city. But just to make sure, I loosen my belt and keep on noshing.
Diving into a selection of small dishes at Mister Singh’s, I especially enjoy chicken desi – a hearty, coriander-infused curry with the meat still on the bone – and spicy keema aloo, a lamb mince and pea concoction from the Punjab. I mop up both with a haggis-stuffed naan bread, before ordering a haggis samosa to conclude my Scottish fusion feast.
“In the beginning, I didn’t know what haggis was,” says smiling second chef M. Josh when he emerges from the kitchen for a chat. “But it really works with some traditional dishes. It started out as a fun menu item, but it’s really popular now – we even run classes on how to make the pakora.”
Back on Glasgow’s shopper-packed autumnal streets the next day, it’s not long before lunch beckons. Many Indian restaurants here offer great value midday specials, but one highly popular mini-chain pioneered the approach when it launched more than 15 years ago.
The three tiny Wee Curry Shop branches cater to students and money-conscious Glaswegians who still want to eat well. Sliding into a window table at the darkwood-lined city center venue, I discover that lunch ends in 30 minutes at 2 p.m. But the friendly waiter tells me this is the best time to come since the place is often jam-packed.
Glancing at the blackboard menu, I understand its popularity: for the price of a double Scotch, the $9 lunch special looks like a bargain. I’m soon crunching on a generous portion of steaming mushroom fritters, followed by a heaping main of fresh-cooked chili-garlic cabbage and baked tomatoes topped with a slab of spicy, butter-soft haddock. It comes with a side of warm roti flatbreads.
Re-adjusting my belt, I spend the rest of the afternoon exploring. Tourists rushing en masse to Edinburgh often overlook Glasgow, but I’ve always preferred this larger, grittier metropolis: you meet the locals here and there’s always plenty to do. I putter around Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum as well as the Gallery of Modern Art before taking in the lovely art nouveau interiors at Glasgow University’s Mackintosh House.
And after all that mental stimulation, my appetite returns. But this time, I take a lighter route. In the heritage Merchant City area – where monumental Victorian bank buildings are now colonized by boutiques and restaurants – I duck into romantic, candlelit KoolBa for an early evening deal: before 7 p.m. on weekdays, there’s a good-value Indian tapas menu.
I order two dishes from the 32 available (each under $8), along with a mammoth-sized naan. Lamb cafreal – prepared with spinach, mint and cream – combines tender meat with crunchy onions, but the waiter’s South Indian garlic chili chicken suggestion wins: it’s brimming with large chunks of breast, submerged in a spicy tomato sauce.
Luckily, my hotel is uphill so I convince myself the stroll back will be more than enough to work off my expanding curry belly.
The next day, I’m scheduled to fly out. But there’s just time for a final lunch before hopping on the bus to the airport. And since I don’t know when my next Indian meal will be, an all-you-can-eat buffet seems appropriate.
Glasgow’s main drag, Sauchiehaul Street is stuffed like a bulging keema naan with tasty Indian eateries, especially at its West End tip. Lured by the slightly naughty name, I choose Kama Sutra and its $13 lunch buffet.
I’ve taken on these all-you-can-eat deals before and they are usually disappointing, with a couple of lame curry choices and plenty of rice to fill you up. But this one is superior.
I almost overindulge at the starter table, crammed with trays of pakoras, samosas and squash fritters. But I manage to save room for bite-sized samples of the six main dish curries, finding that the chunky lamb tikka masala is my favorite. But rather than concluding with dessert – fresh fruit or house-made chocolate cake – I scoop up some crunchy pakoras for the road. They’re not the haggis variety, but they still hit the spot.
John Lee is a Vancouver-based freelance travel writer. His trip was supported by Visit Britain.
If you go:
Mister Singh’s India: 149 Elderslie Street; www.mistersinghsindia.com. Mains $15-$25.
Wee Curry Shop: 7 Buccleuch Street; www.weecurryshopglasgow.co.uk. Lunch specials $9; mains $9-$19.
KoolBa: 109 Candleriggs; www.koolba.com. Tapas specials $5-$8; mains $19-$27.
Kama Sutra: 331 Sauchiehall Street; www.kamasutrarestaurants.com; lunch buffet $13; mains $15-$25.
For a central boutique hotel within strolling distance of all the restaurants, try the pampering Blythswood Square (www.townhousecompany.com; doubles from $175). For further Glasgow trip planning resources, visit www.seeglasgow.com.