Liverpool is blessed with two Mowgli restaurants and the delicate mix of spice, heat and yoghurt, that make up the delicious Indian street food menu has put both Bold Street and Water Street firmly on the Liverpool foodie map. We had the absolute pleasure of interviewing owner and entrepreneur Nisha Katona, who has just released a brand new book detailing how to replicate some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.
Dont forget to enter our competition below for a chance to win a signed copy of her brand new book!
Q: What has inspired you to open, authentic Indian street food restaurants in Liverpool?
I have always been obsessed with the way nations cooked. The anthropology and social genesis of what they created and how they created it. The idea of a restaurant haunted me- I had these desert island dishes that I was pathologically addicted to, so would the British public feel the same? So I did it, and I risked all I had and to open the first Mowgli restaurant on Bold Street, Liverpool in 2014 when I was still working full time as a Barrister. On principle I took curry virgins and trained them in the ancient Hindu spice formulas.
Q: Do you think Liverpool has a taste for spicy food?
Liverpool has the oldest china town in the UK. This means that from days of Old Liverpool has been open to new and interesting dining cultures. Mowgli is not about spicy food and I loath the word “spicy”. It implies thoughtless heat. Mowgli food is about the delicate balance of actual spices and chili is never there for heat, but for a background warmth.
Q: What would you say is the most popular dish on your menu?
Our Yoghurt Chat Bombs made with tamarind mint, coriander onion, spiced yoghurt chickpeas to name but a few of the 20 ingredients that go into each one. They are made to order and are the ultimate flavor grenade. They are everything one DOES NOT associate with Indian food. Fresh, zingy, light and cleansing. This is at the heart of my Mowgli menu. Other popular dishes include our Gunpowder Chicken, cooked in a crisp spiced gram flour batter and the Bunny Chow which is a dish devised by Indian railway workers in South Africa.
Q: What is your favourite dish from your new cookbook?
I love the Bunny chow. Bunny Chow which is a dish devised by Indian railway workers in South Africa. Rich mutton curry was transported to work in a hollow tin loaf. There is something so endearing and charming about a rich, exotic lamb curry presented in a humble, white tin loaf. To me it’s a beautifully tongue and cheek demonstration of Western restraint appropriating Eastern excess. The story of each dish is as delicious as its flavour!
Q: If you could invite 4 people to a dinner party, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
I would invite CS Lewis and Tolkein Fuchsia Dunlop and Nicky Segnit. The former two are my favourite authors and would keep the conversation going. The latter two are my favourite food authors and I would invite them just so they would have to invite me back and cook their incredible food for me.
Q: Do you think there is a connection between cooking and happiness?
There is something so important about choosing the best that the land around you has to give and feeding those you love. This is how Indians show love. Each meal is a carefully constructed love letter-we dont throw things together. We use humble ingredients yes, but we treat them like the food of kings. To me cooking is like painting. Take basic pigment and make something unforgettable with is entirely therapeutic.
Q: What is more important to you, the presentation of a dish, the flavour and taste of a dish or the nutritional value?
As a home cook presentation ranks as the least important factor in my kitchen. To me it is ALL about the flavour. Nutritional value and flavour go hand in hand. Good ingredients cooked in a healthy way will taste better. No on wants oil clagged heavy handed dishes. They want to be tantalised and satisfied in flavour. Their eyes can stay shut as far as Im concerned. Beauty on the plate can be like beauty in the face. Meaningless as an indicator of integrity and value.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone looking to improve their skills in the kitchen?
Being great at the hob is not really about skills. It is about understanding flavour. Understanding what cooking method works best with certain ingredients to make them taste as good as they can. Is it frying, is it grilling. That comes only with eating. Eating interesting and exotic ingredients cooked by home cooks. Home cooks who are cooking according to tried and tested formula and methods. Being inventive can only come when you know what flavours go with what. That comes by exposing your palate to as wide a range of world cuisines as possible. Open your mind and go find some good street food.
Q:What ingredient do you think would make Liverpool more delicious?
Food entrepreneurs would make Liverpool more delicious. There are so many cultures and families with heirloom recipes. Concentrate on a small handful of them and take them to the market. We need to encourage a thriving independent food scene in Liverpool as it is the incubator for national food concepts and Liverpool’s name needs to march across the nation with great food as its standard bearer.
Q: If you were forced to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
It would be sushi. But weird sushi. Not the tuna and the salmon but the urchins and the fish eggs and the squid and the molluscs. I live my life globe trotting and cooking every kind of nations’ foods. I have been for cooking lessons to Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Morocco, but sushi in not something I would every create. It is something that loses its romance to me in the preparation. I love it. It is clean and healthy and virtues, but it will always be something to which I will never turn my hand to.
Nisha has just launched her new recipe book, Mowgli Street Food: Stories and recipes from the Mowgli Street Food restaurants. Beautifully detailing each menu, the book is a taste sensation for both the eyes and the home cook. Get ready to experiment with rose water, cardamon and of course a wide range of flavours and heat. You can pick up a copy of the new book via Amazon.
We are also giving away a FREE SIGNED COPY of her brand new book. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning is to answer the question below and provide your name and email address. The winner will be chosen at random and emailed directly. The competition winner will be announced on Saturday 22nd April 2018.