‘I’m following a dream – giving people my soul food’: the global restaurants bringing life to British streets

Tarik Abdeladim, 51

“When I started out, getting harisssa in York wasn’t easy,” says Tarik Abdeladim. “There was one stockist.” Chefs have been frantic since reopening after lockdown, he says. “The combination of Brexit and the pandemic has been like a tsunami hitting our industry. We’re a tourist city. European staff, especially those without families here, have gone home.” He employs 20 mostly local workers.

“People used to drop their CVs in all the time. I recently advertised for chefs and didn’t have one response. That’s a huge geographical and emotional shift; people no longer want to work long kitchen hours away from home.”

Abdeladim moved to London from Algiers in 1990, aged 20: “We’d visit Paris when I was young and I worked in kitchens on the Côte d’Azur, so Europe was always on my radar. I visited a friend in London and fell in love with British culture, history, music, football. I never went home.”

Having worked first as a pot washer, then later as a waiter and front of house, he moved to York in 1997, after visiting the city. “As an immigrant, language is a barrier to jobs,” he says, “but being in restaurants was what I knew. The pot wash suited me till I knew enough to speak to customers and take orders.”

His falafel wraps and fiery merguez sausage, served with harissa on hot baguettes, quickly became the city’s top-rated food on Tripadvisor, after he opened a stall on Shambles Market in 2015. When a regular offered to sell him their restaurant three years later, he established Los Moros – a Spanish nod to his Berber heritage – serving modern north African cuisine. Its picturesque British exterior belies the colours and aromas of an Algerian souk you’ll find within.

Abdeladim’s food is steeped in the legacies of Algeria’s invaders. He says: “My indigenous Berber family cooked tagines. My grandmother sat for hours at our kitchen table making kilos of couscous from semolina. The Romans brought olives and citrus; the Arabs brought spices; the Turks came to defend us, bringing coffee and baklava; and, finally, the French, with the croissants I ate for breakfast back home. All the cultures that shaped my taste buds exist on my menu.”

They include the merguez he first cooked for his stall, now served in a butter bean dish his mother used to make:. “My father would go to the best butcher in Algiers.” Abdeladim says. “It’s the food of my childhood. When I came here at 20, I was young and adventurous, I wanted to discover and learn. My own business was never part of the plan. A guy from the Michelin guide tweeted about my food last year. I never envisaged that.”

Algerian cassoulet (merguez and beans)

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large white Spanish onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground chilli (or more, if you like it hot)
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
500g merguez sausages, each cut into 3 equal pieces
500g drained, cooked butter beans (ie from 2 x 400g cans – we use Navarrico large butter beans)
1 handful each flat-leaf parsley and coriander, roughly chopped
Crusty baguette to serve

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. add the onion, garlic and salt, and fry until translucent. Add the spices, cook for a further minute or two, then stir in the tomatoes, tomato puree and half a pint of water, and cook on a medium heat for 10-15 minutes.

Throw in the chopped merguez nd cook for another 15 minutes until the sausages are cooked, then add the beans and cook on a low heat until the sauce turns nice and thick.

Adjust the seasoning to taste, stir in the chopped herbs and serve with a crusty baguette to mop up the sauce, Algerian style.

Y Sok, 45

“Hunger pain never leaves you,” says Y Sok, who was raised in a refugee camp in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge civil war, where Red Cross food parcels sustained her family before they moved to America. “Every day there was a lottery system for a new life in France, the US or Australia. My father chose America.”

She moved to the UK in 2014, aged 37: “I remember hanging up our sign and someone saying, ‘We’ll see how long that lasts.’ I wanted to change the perception of Asian food, the racism around it. People grew up eating £5 Chinese meals from the chippy but wouldn’t blink at paying triple for pasta. I wanted the suburbs to discover what ethnic food really is.”

Sok’s 20 staff, who also run a market outpost, are mostly South Asian or Cambodian. She wants to sponsor skilled-worker visas for another two. “It is hard to find a Cambodian chef from our tiny UK population,” she says. “I have found loyalty in immigrant staff, who come looking for better opportunities. If you treat them well, give full benefits and respect, most tend to stay.”

The restaurant, where walls are adorned with framed vinyls – it was formerly called Angkor Soul because of her husband’s record store downstairs – served takeaways during the pandemic. Sok says: “The supply chain has been horrible. I spent days driving round, looking for products.”

Dishes include cha kroeung, a curry with lemongrass, galangal and turmeric, and loc lac, a French colonised dish.

Growing up among Cambodian refugees, in Boston, then Los Angeles, where she would cater dinner parties and small weddings, food provided comfort for Sok’s community. Kambuja returned her to her roots. “As an immigrant kid, I wanted to eat American mac’n’cheese to assimilate,” she says. “I took the Cambodian food my mother cooked for granted. My restaurant brought me back to a place I had been away from for so long.”

Cha kroeung chicken (spicy lemongrass stir-fry)

Serves 4-5

2 tbsp vegetable oil
400g
boneless chicken breast or thighs, thinly sliced
1 onion,
in 1cm-wide slices
1 red
pepper, stem, seeds and pith discarded, flesh cut into 1cm-thick slices
150g green beans, topped
, cut in half
100g roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 large handful sweet holy or Thai
basil
Sliced spring onions

For the lemongrass paste
3 lemongrass stalks,
outer leaves removed, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 shallots, peeled
6 Thai red or green bird’s eyes chillies
(or fewer)
2½ cm piece (about 15g) galangal, peeled and sliced
, or ginger
5 fresh or frozen
makrut lime leaves, sliced
2 tsp turmeric powder

For the seasoning
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp palm sugar
(or any other sugar or honey)
1 tbs
p tamarind paste or lime juice

Blitz paste ingredients in a blender, adding enough cold water to make a smooth paste. Heat the oil in a wide pan until smoking hot, add the paste and cook, stirring, for eight to 10 minutes, until dry. Add chicken, veg and seasoning ingredients, and stir-fry until chicken is cooked. Add peanuts and, off the heat, basil. Garnish with spring onions; serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Buzzrock, 72, and Farida Anderson, 60

Two decades after his parents arrived in the UK with the Windrush generation, Buzzrock came to Britain from Jamaica, in 1976, age 27, holding only a photograph of his mother. Raised by an aunt, Buzzrock (known as Buzz) was the last of his family to emigrate, following his three sisters, once his father – a second world war veteran – had made enough money.

Buzz established his name in the shebeens and all-night Caribbean clubs of Manchester’s Moss Side where he met his wife Farida – the daughter of a Somali immigrant, now an MBE – and cooked up a taste of home for the city’s Jamaican community, including the tightly packed dumplings he is named after.

Now his cafe, where meat marinates from 6am and punters queue before noon, dishes up 300 plates of island food a day. “Our customers are British, Irish, Asian, Caribbean – 80% are white. It gives me a buzz to see all of them with ‘dem belly full’.” (They sell T-shirts carrying Buzz’s slogan in their online shop.)

“Buzz and I have put in a lot of hours to get here,” Farida says. “When they called the area ‘Gunchester’ we’d dodge bullets, serving food from our trailer. We fought for eight years to get our premises, experiencing racism as black shop owners.”

The pandemic has had an impact, too. “Meat is 30% more expensive. I spent last summer policing the door, getting people to wear masks and sanitise.”

In the shebeen days, Buzz’s cooking fuelled illicit gambling dens and a sideline supplying cannabis. He started the business following a two-year prison sentence for drugs offences and the (now expired) threat of deportation. Farida – later a campaigner for prisoners’ families – fought for him to remain. Now, they employ ex-offenders and prisoners on day release. “We believe in second chances,” Farida says.

Thirty years after he started feeding crowds from a gazebo at Manchester’s Caribbean carnival, Buzz is still serving the same jerk recipe, salt fish patties, flavoursome gravy and curried goat (actually lamb, because British palates “don’t like the bones in goat”) in the shop the couple opened in 2007. “Consistency is the thing,” Buzz says. “People say they’ve been to many places but never tried jerk like I make it.”

Barbecue jerk chicken with rice and peas

Serves 5-6

For the jerk chicken
4-6 full chicken legs
3-4 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
100g Buzzrocks all-purpose seasoning (Buzzrocks products all available from buzzrockcaribbean.co.uk)

Buzzrocks jerk marinade
or mild jerk marinade

For the rice and peas
180g dried kidney beans – rinsed, soaked overnight and drained (you can use tinned beans, but it will affect the flavour)
1 small onion, peeled
and finely chopped
2
spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic paste
2 tbsp
Buzzrocks all-purpose seasoning
4 sprigs thyme
1 scotch bonnet chilli

2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
400g long-grain rice

Rub lemon juice or vinegar all over the chicken, to add flavour, then season lightly with our all-purpose dry rub.

Pour the jerk marinade into a large bowl, add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 30 minutes, and bring back to room temperature before grilling.

Light your barbecue. Grill the chicken over a medium fire, turning occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, until well browned all over.

Put the beans in a large pot, cover with 750ml water and bring to a boil. Stir in the onion, spring onions, garlic paste, all-purpose seasoning, thyme, scotch bonnet (pierce a hole in the chilli – this will stop it splitting and adding too much spice), salt and pepper, then cover and cook gently for about an hour, until the beans are tender. Stir in the rice, cover and simmer over a low heat for another 30 minutes, until cooked.

Frederic Berkmiller, 51

“I have seen staffing problems in restaurants for years,” says Frederic Berkmiller, who established a French-Scottish training exchange for young chefs in 2011, long before Brexit and the pandemic triggered an exodus of foreign and casual workers.

“Chefs say all the time that they can’t get waiting staff now foreigners have left. We have to build our own ecosystem. Young people brought up on chips, curry sauce and supermarket food will not aspire to cook and work with fresh fish or vegetables they’ve never seen before.”

Since lockdown, he has slimmed his staff from 30, across two sites, to six, including chefs who have been with him for years. “The work is hard, so I look after my chefs,” he says. “We’ve been working four days on, three off, for 15 years.”

Born in the Loire valley, Berkmiller moved to London in 1988, then to Edinburgh in 2004. He works to a sustainable, “producer to pass” ethos, farming himself and using nearby growers and suppliers for the dishes plated up at his chef’s pass. He serves classic French cuisine from a locally sourced Scottish larder and four-acre garden, employing skills he learned as a teenager. “School didn’t like me and I didn’t like school. At 14, I was sent to live in as an apprentice in a restaurant where food was hunted, picked and cooked on site.”

L’Escargot Bleu is an authentic, charming bistro, with a blue frontage and a wood-panelled bar, tablecloths, a blackboard with the day’s menu and large, classic French advertisements on its walls. “I like to cook by my mood,” Berkmiller says. “My dream restaurant would have no menu. Time-intensive beef bourguignon and veal blanquettes are disappearing, but I’m a great defender of classic French cooking – it’s my origin.”

Bourguignon of beef cheeks with garniture grand-mère

Serves 4-6

4-6 beef cheeks
Olive oil, for frying
2
tbsp plain flour
1 litre demi-glace or good beef stock

For the marinade
2-3 bottles red wine
2 onions, peeled and cut into large dice
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
2 celery stalks
1 large bouquet garni
10 black peppercorns
2 generous soup spoons cognac

For the garniture grand-mère
2 knobs butter (approx 25g each)
200g button mushrooms
200g lardons, or diced smoked bacon
200g silverskin onions
20g caster sugar

Plan ahead – marinading can take up to five days. Pour 80% of the wine into a large container, then add the onions, carrots, celery, bouquet garni, peppercorns and cognac. Cover with clingfilm or a lid, and refrigerate for two days.

Add the beef cheeks to the marinade and return to the fridge for a further two or three days, turning the meat every day. When the beef has marinated, lift it out of the marinade, keeping the wine and vegetables, put on a tray between two cloths and pat until it is very dry.

Heat the oven to 130C (110 fan). Put a splash of olive oil in a large, cast-iron casserole pan on a very high heat, then brown the meat all over, until golden. Lower the heat and sweat the drained vegetables (but not the bouquet garni) from the marinade, until the onions are softened. Return the beef to the pot, sprinkle over the flour, then pour over the marinade juices. Bring to a boil, season, then add the bouquet garni and the demi-glace or stock. Cook in the heated oven for two to three hours. (If you want to add even more flavour, spread the cooking time over two days: cook for one hour on day one, leave to cool, then refrigerate, and cook at the same temperature for another hour the following day. This is how my grandmother always cooked this dish.)

When the beef is cooked, it should be almost falling apart. When it gets to this stage, lift it out of the pan and place on a tray. Pass the sauce through a strainer into another pan. Place the pot on the heat, bring the sauce to a boil and reduce until it has a good consistency, thick enough to cover the back of a spoon. Season to taste, then return the meat to the sauce and serve the same day, or cool and refrigerate for a day or two, before reheating.

To make the grand-mère garnish, heat the butter and a splash of olive oil in a frying pan, saute the mushrooms until well coloured, then lift out into a bowl. Do the same with the lardons, then put with the mushrooms. Add the silverskin onions and sugar to the hot butter and toss until glazed and golden. Drain, then saute all the garnish ingredients together to heat through.

When you are ready to eat, pour the reserved wine into the beef pot and gently bring up to a simmer. Stir in the grand-mère garnish and serve with boiled potatoes such as ratte or pink fir, or an earthy, creamy mashed potato.

Alex Nietosvuori, 29

“It can be hard to find a passion for working kitchen hours among local boys and girls,” says Alex Nietosvuori, the Swede behind newly Michelin-starred Hjem, which he established in 2019 with his Northumbrian fiance Ally Thompson, 37; they also run the Hadrian hotel and a gastro pub in the north-east market town.

While their fine-dining staff have expanded to a team of eight, lockdown triggered departures elsewhere in the business. “A lot of people are in our industry for convenience or to pay their way through uni,” Thompson says. “They realised there’s probably an easier way to live than working till midnight everyday.”

Nietosvuori, who emigrated from Sweden in 2015, is matter of fact. “At the end of the day, if people leave, we don’t need them here,” he says. “We want all of our business to reflect the standards of our restaurant.”

It compounded a problem started by Brexit, Thompson adds: “There are no applications from Europeans now. Our last stage [intern], an Italian, left before lockdown. Our two Polish chefs have said the vote made them feel unwelcome. I fear we will see fewer European chefs wanting to open here.”

Hjem – both a Norwegian translation and Northumbrian dialect for “home” – sits on the same latitude as Nietosvuori’s native Skåne, in the south of Sweden. The same berries, mushrooms and plants go into the recipes on his tasting menus, including crisp croustades; pearly, white river cod; and the restaurant’s signature horseradish sorbet with spelt crumble and warm apple caramel served inside a wooden apple crafted by Thompson’s father.

“In Sweden you can forage on anyone’s land,” Thompson says. “Alex will often be walking the dog and pull containers out from his backpack.”

Nietosvuori, whose career began 12 years ago, making pies in Malmö, says: “Our ambition is very simple: to be the best in the country, then the world. Last time we opened bookings, they were gone in two minutes. I couldn’t care less about food when I was young. Now, food is everything.”

Baked cod and Northumbrian ’nduja sauce

Serves 4

1 cod fillet, around 40cm
100g salt, for the brine
2 heads of broccoli, washed
500g
spinach, washed
350g butter
50g ’nduja (
we use Rachel Hammond’s Northumbrian ’nduja)
300ml good chicken stock
150
ml double cream

Plan ahead, as the cod needs to go in the fridge for 24 hours. Cut out the thickest part of the fillet and take off the skin; the rest of the fillet – the thinner part – is perfect for fish and chips later in the week. Measure out 2 litres of water, add 100g salt and whisk to dissolve. Put the cod in the brine and soak in the fridge for 24 hours.

Next day, lift out and pat dry the fish, then place on clingfilm and roll into a sausage shape, twisting the ends to keep it as tight as possible. Wrap in foil to make a cylindrical shape. Bake at 110C, then remove and put it straight into ice water – still wrapped – to cool it down and stop any further cooking, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, slice the cod into 2cm-thick portions.

Cook the broccoli in boiling water for about 10 minutes, adding the spinach for the last 30 seconds, then strain, put in a blender with 100g of the butter and blitz to a smooth puree (you might need to add a little water), then refrigerate.

In a frying pan, sweat off the ’nduja without colouring it, to release some of the aromas, then add the chicken stock and reduce by half. Stir in the remaining 250g butter and blitz it all together.

Put the slices of cod on a baking try and heat gently in a 150C oven for about three minutes, until just warm. In a pan, warm up the broccoli puree. In a separate pan, warm up your ’nduja sauce. Put a slice of cod in the base of four shallow bowls, top with a tablespoon of broccoli puree, pour over 2 tbsp of the warm sauce and serve.

San Wong, 69, and his sons Charlie, 44, and Michael, 42

Charlie’s father, San, was 16 when he left Tai Po, Hong Kong, with his parents. “We couldn’t make a living in the New Territories,” San says. “My father left first; I followed six months later.”

His 70-cover Chinese restaurant, situated on Stranmillis Road in Belfast, bills itself as the longest established in Northern Ireland (the first Welcome opened in Portadown in 1973; it switched location to the Belfast site in 1982) and passed to his sons, Charlie and Michael, five years ago.

“We still use sauces from Tai Po, but the pandemic has hit the supply chain hard,” Charlie says. “People are stockpiling imported ingredients. You have to buy up what you can from Chinese supermarkets. Consistency is important.”

During the Troubles, San stayed, while other families left. “Many Indian and Italian restaurants closed. Those were dark days, but they presented an opportunity to make our name. As an Asian family, we would be waved through road blocks while both sides of the city fought.

“Today we have families who’ve been coming for three generations. I’ve turned away rock stars and politicians to honour bookings from my regulars.”

Steamed mussels in black bean sauce

Serves 1-2

1 spring onion, trimmed
1 chilli (red or green)
300g dry black beans
50ml cooking oil (vegetable
is fine but not olive), plus 10-20ml extra to finish
100g sugar
30g salt
20ml light soy sauce
10ml dark soy sauce
50g garlic, peeled and minced (or garlic paste)
7-10
frozen New Zealand mussels, in the half shell

Cut the spring onion into thin strips, and slice the chillies into thin rounds, then set aside.

Use a spoon to mash the black beans in a bowl. Put the oil into a pan on a low heat, then add the beans, sugar, salt, both soy sauces and garlic, stir to combine and cook slowly until they form a smooth paste. Take off the heat and set aside to cool.

Put a steamer pan on to boil. Put the mussels on a plate and put a teaspoon of the black bean paste on each one. As soon as steam comes out from the steamer, put in the mussel plate, cover the steamer and leave to cook for seven to eight minutes, just until the flesh is bouncy, not squishy.

To finish, heat 10-20ml cooking oil in a pan. Scatter the chopped spring onion and chilli on top of the mussels and, once the oil is hot, pour it all over the top so everything sizzles (this will add a sheen to the dish, too). Sprinkle over a drizzle of dark soy sauce, to add colour, and serve hot.

Nand Kishor, 47

The pandemic dealt the worst possible blow to staff at Dastaan who lost their senior chef, Balam Singh, to Covid last January.

“He was my right-hand man, my friend, we miss him terribly,” says chef-owner Nand Kishor Semwal, born in Dehradun, in the Himalayan foothills. Half of his 22 employees were taken ill over Christmas 2020.

The 52-cover restaurant, born of a friendship between Semwal and co-owner Sanjay Gour, both former head chefs at the Michelin-starred Gymkhana in London (where Singh also worked), is operating at 30 covers with a delivery driver, post-pandemic. “We’re lucky – our staff have been here for years, but I’m paying £2-3 more per kilo of lamb, and a box of chillis is up 50%.” The name Dastaan is taken from the Urdu for fable or tale. The unassuming shopfront on a Surrey high street belies a vibrant, talked-about and beautifully plated menu served in simple surrounds.

Semwal moved to England, for work, in 2003, having cooked in Mumbai’s best kitchens. His lamb chops with mustard relish remind him of the meat his mother and grandmother prepared. “I cook the food I ate at home in north India and cooked in kitchens in the south. I was always fascinated by food. My dream came true.”

Lamb chops

Serves 2

4 thick lamb chops
50g melted butter, to serve

For the first marinade
2-3 x 4cm pieces ginger, unpeeled and bashed to bruise
45g ginger and garlic paste
5g ground kasuri methi
7
½g salt
40g Kashmiri chilli powder
25ml lemon juice
45ml mustard oil

For the second marinade
200g Greek yoghurt, strained
20g ginger and garlic paste
5g ground kasuri methi
40g Kashmiri chilli powder
15g garam masala

Plan ahead as the marinades take two days.

Put the lamb in a container in which it will sit in one layer and add all the ingredients for the first marinade. Toss to coat, rub the marinade into the meat with your hands, then refrigerate for at least 12-18 hours. Next day, combine all the ingredients for the second marinade and again rub into the lamb, then refrigerate for six to 12 hours.

Heat the oven to 170/180C (150/160 fan). Thread the chops on to skewers, passing them through each one two or three times, to secure. Roast for nine or 10 minutes, then turn and cook for four minutes. Remove, drizzle with melted butter and serve.

Yeshi Jampa, 42

“We need more staff but we know it’s not a good time,” says Yeshi Jampa, who started up his canteen-style restaurant in November 2020, after six years serving up east Tibetan soul food at fairs and festivals, including Glastonbury. “There aren’t enough skilled workers around, or the time to train them.”

Jampa and his wife, Julie, opened Taste Tibet’s distinctive blue front door, on a residential street, mid-pandemic. “It’s been really hard,” he says. “Suppliers didn’t want to come for our relatively small orders. I was going round shops buying chicken.”

Their kitchen is open Wednesday to Saturday, with five employees, including staff from Tibet and Timor-Leste. “With more people, we’d be able to be open more often,” says Julie, who met her husband while working in India.

Jampa had a semi-nomadic upbringing, followed by an accidental immigration. At 19, he crossed the Himalayas to help his brother join an Indian monastery. “I walked for 24 days. The journey was so hard, it was 17 years before I returned home.”

He met Julie and moved to Oxford, where she worked, in 2011. “I’d never seen food covered in plastic or sold in such small quantities,” he says.

Photographs of the mountainsides where he grew up, rearing yaks and cattle in summer and storing produce for winter, decorate the brick walls of his restaurant. The queue for his steamed momo dumplings hasn’t dissipated since he first pitched up on Gloucester Green market, in Oxford, in 2014. During lockdown, they used their premises, and customer donations, to send food to frontline workers and vulnerable people. A cookbook, Taste Tibet, follows on 17 March.

Jampa says: “My driving force is to educate people about Tibet; food is a big part of that. Our canteen is a place where a rich man can eat the same food as a poor man. Being a refugee influences that. Where I grew up, the signs in schools said ‘Others before self’. That ethos, karma, is important in Tibet.”

Heavenly vegan momos

Makes 40

For the dough
500g
self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting (or buy ready-made dumpling wrappers at a good Chinese supermarket)

For the filling
1 small sweetheart cabbage, about 500g, finely chopped
200g
spinach, finely chopped
2
tsp salt
2
tbsp cooking oil
200g
Chinese chives, finely chopped

For the dough, put the flour in a large bowl and slowly pour in about 250ml of warm water, while mixing it in with your other hand, to make a not-too-sticky dough. Knead until it forms a ball, cover and set aside for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Put the cabbage and spinach in a bowl, add the salt and oil, squish it through the vegetables (to draw out excess moisture), then set aside for five minutes. Tip the vegetables into a colander and press down firmly to drain off as much liquid as possible. Return the vegetable mixture to the bowl and stir in the chives.

Knead the dough again for a minute to ensure it’s soft and smooth, then divide it into four, and cover to stop it drying out. Sprinkle a little flour on a work surface, but don’t overdo it – too much can stiffen the dough. Roll one piece of dough into a 25cm-long sausage shape, then cut into 10 equal slices, lightly flattening each one with your hand. Using a rolling pin, and making one wrapper at a time, push and pull the flattened piece of dough up and down quickly and firmly, holding it with your spare hand and turning it as you go, until it’s the size of your palm with the centre a bit thicker than the outer edges; it doesn’t need to be a perfect circle. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Lay a wrapper on a chopping board, spoon a tablespoon of filling into the centre, gently fold one side of the circle over the filling to meet the other side and, starting in the middle, use your fingertips to press the edges together. (If you’re using shop-bought wrappers, you’ll need to wet the edges before sealing.) If the momo is not completely sealed, the juices will escape during steaming, so ensure there are no gaps. Place the filled momo on a lined baking tray, cover with a tea towel, then repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling; keep the filled momos at least 1cm apart, covered with the tea towel to stop them drying out.

If you’re using a metal steamer, lightly brush each basket with oil or line with greaseproof paper; if you’re using a bamboo one, line with greaseproof paper. The water in the base of the steamer, or in a wok, should be boiling when the baskets go in. Steam the momos in batches (and depending on the size of your steamer) over a high heat for 13-16 minutes. To test whether they’re ready, press gently: if the dough doesn’t stick to your finger, they’re done. Serve with chilli dips.

Jude Kereama, 48

The last two years have given hospitality workers time to take stock, according to Jude Kereama: “I think a lot have really enjoyed being at home with their families. That’s had a big impact on attitudes towards working in this industry. I’m lucky to have had loyalty from mine.”

He employs 10 people across his two restaurants on Porthleven’s Harbour Head. “Brexit and the pandemic have also taught us we must change the way we cook. Fish prices are four times what they should be. It’s no longer sustainable to demand overfishing and huge pieces of cheap meat on meals.”

Born in New Zealand to a Māori father and Chinese-Malay mother, Kereama has seen a lot of changes in the Cornish food scene. “When we moved here, everything around us was pubs. My menu was a culture shock.”

After rising through the ranks of New Zealand hospitality, he came to England on a two-year working visa, aged 24, and fell in love with his restaurant manager wife, Jane. They converted a west Cornwall boat shed into Kota in 2006, and opened family-friendly Kota Kai in 2011. Jane died of cancer in 2019.

His Kota menu pays homage to his childhood. Soft-shell crab in a bao bun, with Asian slaw and seaweed mayo, is a bestseller. “My siblings and I would catch blue swimmer crabs on Waikanae beach,” he says. “Mum would throw them in chilli paste and we’d dip in white bread and butter.” Tempura oyster, served at the restaurant, is inspired by the taste of his dad’s battered oyster, enjoyed with fish and chips every Friday, on the beach back home.

“In New Zealand, everyone had an abundance of garden veg and fruit trees. We’d harvest everything. Dad taught us bushcraft and foraging. Mum brought Malaysia’s fusion flavours and had an open-door policy. Friends would walk past at 6pm, knowing they’d get an invite to dinner,” says Kereama, a finalist on the BBC show Great British Menu, whose dream is to cook for the Queen. “Immigration is about following a dream. I try to give people my soul food, something that comes from my upbringing, my journey, and no one else’s.”

Singapore crab bao bun

Seves 4 as a starter

For the soft-shell crab
4 soft-shell crabs
200ml buttermilk
1 tbsp S
ichuan pepper
1 tbsp Cornish sea salt
250g plain flour

For the bao buns (makes 24, which can be frozen once cooked)
3g dried yeast
170ml warm water
25g sugar
1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
300g strong flour
Vegetable oil for brushing

For the Singapore chilli sauce
10 large dried red chillies, rehydrated, deseeded and diced (
I like Sichuan long-dried chilli)
5
serrano chillies, diced
1 tbsp shrimp paste, roasted
for 5 minutes
1 thumb of galangal, diced
1 stick lemongrass, diced

1 banana shallot, peeled and diced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger

25ml vegetable oil
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp black bean sauce
1 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
3 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

For the Asian slaw
100g chopped Chinese cabbage
100g carrot, julienned or grated into matchsticks

3 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
6-7 tbsp (25g) chopped fresh coriander
4 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp brown muscovado sugar
60ml rice-wine vinegar
1 tsp golden sesame oil
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 lime, juiced

For the seaweed mayo
2 sheets nori
200g mayonnaise
Juice of ½ lemon

To garnish
12 slices cucumber
Coriander micro-cress (or large picked coriander leaves
)
1 lime, cut into wedges

For the deep-fried soft-shell crab, soak the crabs in the buttermilk. Toast the Sichuan pepper in a frying pan for about a minute, then let it cool down. Grind the pepper with the salt, then season the flour. When needed, take each crab and let the excess buttermilk drip off, then dredge in the flour to coat. Deep-fry (at 180C if you can measure temperature) until crispy.

For the bao buns, mix the yeast, water, sugar and vegetable oil in a mixing bowl and leave to react. Mix all the other dry ingredients together. When the yeast is activated, add everything together to make a dough. Knead for a good 10 minutes, then cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to prove for about 1 1/2 hours. Knock the dough back and divide into about 24 even balls. Leave to prove for another 30 minutes.

In the meantime, cut out 24 greaseproof paper squares (approx 10x10cm). When the dough balls are ready, roll them out into ovals. Take an oiled chopstick and place in the middle of the ovals, fold over the ovals to make a bao shape, then withdraw the chopstick. Place on the greaseproof paper and let them rise for another 30 minutes. When ready, steam the buns in batches for 10 minutes.

For the Singapore chilli sauce, mix the chillies, shrimp paste, galangal and lemongrass, then blend to a paste. Saute the shallot, garlic and ginger in the vegetable oil until golden. add the chilli paste, ketchup, black bean sauce, sugar and salt, then take off the heat and stir in the spring onions and coriander.

For the Asian slaw, put the cabbage, carrot, spring onions and coriander in a bowl. Combine the remaining slaw ingredients to make the dressing, whisk, then toss through the chopped vegetables.

For the seaweed mayo, dry the nori in a cool oven until very crisp, then blitz to a powder. Season the mayonnaise with the lemon juice, then mix in ½ tsp of the nori powder.

To assemble, open up the bao buns, smear chilli sauce to taste on the base, followed by slices of cucumber and a heap of coleslaw. Lay some crab meat on next, followed by a small dollop of mayo and, if you like it hotter, another smear of chilli sauce on top. Garnish and don’t forget to squeeze the lime over before eating.

Beza Berhanu, 44

“My staff are students or mums who need some hours,” says Beza Berhanu, who was 16 when she followed her cousin to the UK. Her vegan restaurant in Elephant & Castle opened six months before the pandemic. During lockdown, locals and her landlord funded cooking for NHS staff, the homeless and those out of work. “When I came here I wanted to do something that helped people. I came for opportunity. Look at me now,” she says.

Berhanu grew up in Addis Ababa. Weekends and the winter were spent away from the city, at her grandmother’s, where the table was full of colour – spinach, tomatoes, green beans. “She grew everything you can think of on her land. My grandmother was an Orthodox Christian who knew all the health benefits of vegan food, or what we knew as ‘fasting food’. She was over 100 when she died.”

Berhanu studied as a nutritionist in London, and started making juices, then batches of red lentil and spinach, to sell at Camden market. “When I started cooking, all that my grandma taught me came back to me. Ethiopian food was new to my customers – they were full of wonder.”

Long queues led to the offer of a 25-seat premises in another part of London, which has all the colour and flavours of her grandmother’s table. In fact a round, Ethiopian-made replica table, crafted from dyed grass and palm leaves, hosts her customers. “In my culture, if you have one meal, you share it with someone. My family would sit around my grandma’s table and tell each other about our day. Now everyone wants to sit at my table.

“Sometimes I sit in my kitchen and think: ‘Now people know my culture.’ I still go back home to fill my suitcase with the berbere spice that my mum makes, to use at my restaurant.”

Misir wot (spiced red lentils)

Serves 2, generously

3 tbsp oil of your choice
2 big
red onions, peeled and finely diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
1in piece ginger, minced

70g berbere spice mix (from the spice or world food section of big supermarkets) or paprika and cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
500g red lentils
Salt to taste
Flatbread or injera to serve

Place oil in a medium stock pot on a medium-high heat, add onions, garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, for eight to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Add berbere spice and pepper, and cook, stirring, for five to seven minutes more; turn down heat, if need be, to prevent it catching. Add 250ml cold water and lentils, turn down heat and cook, stirring, for 20-25 mins, until it turns thick. Simmer for two minutes more, add salt and serve on flatbread (we use Ethiopian injera bread).

Antonio Cersosimo, 45

“I wanted to live abroad and being in the EU made that easy,” says Antonio Cersosimo, who was a physics student when he left Italy for Wales in 1999, aged 22, to improve his English. Now he runs one of the country’s best, authentically Italian restaurants, where regulars visit twice a week and the menu uses a mix of local ingredients and Italian imports, including wine, truffle and salami, which are increasingly hard to come by. “The ripple effect of Brexit, coronavirus and the Suez canal blockage has been chaos,” he says. “Prices have gone up. In some cases we’re the only ones in the UK buying from small, family producers, so they simply had to stop exporting to us.”

When he opened in 2005, it marked a departure from the garlic bread and lasagne served in Wales’s Italian cafes. “I’d never had garlic bread in my life. In my grandparents’ village in Calabria, we ate polenta or risotto. In Milan, where I was raised, my mother made her own passata and sourdough.”

He says successive generations of immigration to the UK have changed attitudes to new cuisines. “When we first opened, I’d put goat and octopus in the bin every week because people wouldn’t try them – now they’re our bestsellers.

“I was part of the second wave of immigrants. We came not because we had to but through choice, so we brought a different approach – less need to assimilate. I could make bolder choices with the food I cooked because, if it didn’t work, I could go home.”

Ragù di agnello e fave (ragù of Welsh lamb and broad beans)

Serves 4

For the ragù
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
2 small carrots, trimmed and finely diced
3 sticks
celery, finely diced
1 small leek, trimmed and finely diced
1
tsp dried mint
Extra-virgin olive oil
400
g Welsh lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into small cubes
250ml
white wine
1 large tomato, peeled and roughly chopped
400
g broad beans, shelled (or frozen and defrosted)

For the gremolata butter
30 fresh mint leaves
Zest of 1 orange
1 clove
garlic, peeled
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

To finish
400g orecchiette
Grated pecorino

If possible, make the ragù the day before and store it in the fridge, because it improves the flavour.

In a thick-based saucepan or casserole dish, saute the chopped onion, carrot, celery, leek and dried mint, stirring often, for five minutes. Meanwhile, fry the lamb cubes in a frying pan, in extra-virgin olive oil, in batches if need be, until nicely coloured, then add to the vegetable pan.

Deglaze the lamb pan with the wine, then pour over the meat, add the tomato and cook very gently for an hour and a half, until the lamb is very tender. (If the meat looks as if it’s drying out too much, add a little water.)

Finely chop the fresh mint, orange zest and garlic clove for the gremolata, then stir into the soft butter.

In a large saucepan, bring five litres of salted water to a rapid boil, add the pasta and cook for at least two minutes less than the stated cooking time – for this recipe, you want it very al dente.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, then return the pasta to the saucepan, pour in the ragu and broad beans, and cook gently, stirring, on a low heat for two to three minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the gremolata butter.

Serve in large pasta bowls, topped with the grated pecorino and a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Stosie Madi, 51

At the height of summer, pre-Brexit and pre-pandemic, Stosie Madi’s multi award-winning pub would cook for 300 people over a weekend, opening six days a week. This summer’s staffing shortage has halved their week and their capacity. “It is heartbreaking. We could still be cooking for those numbers – we have the demand – but we don’t have the staff. After being closed for 18 months, we have not been able to capitalise on the boom that followed.”

With no local transport, and based in a wealthy hamlet where teenagers are not looking for work, Madi has relied heavily on staff from eastern Europe, often living on site. Her four core staff are Brits and one Romanian, who has been there for four years. “Brexit has been a nightmare. It stripped that workforce away. If something doesn’t change drastically, I can’t see how independent restaurants can survive.”

Madi describes herself as a “French-born Gambian with Lebanese origins”. She was born at the end of colonial rule in West Africa and followed her parents into hospitality, opening a jazz club in her 20s, then a restaurant.

The political situation forced them out when her daughter Laudy was 10. “We witnessed defenceless children being shot at in front of us. Seeing poverty around us worsen, people disappearing, friends and colleagues threatened or jailed for political opinions was the last straw.”

Rural Lancashire, the home of her long-standing friend and business partner Kathy Smith, became an unlikely new start and a culinary success. Its location, in the Forest of Bowland, was pivotal when they took on the Parkers Arms in 2007: “We wanted to cook food from the land around us, to be self-sufficient.” Citrus is one of their only imports and everything from ice-creams to bread, chutneys and pies is prepared on site: “I dream in ingredients. My cooking draws from my multinational background and my new, British one. One dish always on my menu is a pie – a dish from Middle Eastern culture, made with northern veg and the same pastry recipe I ate at school in Africa. Yet what could feel more British?”

Beetroot, beet leaves and herb fatayer

Makes 4 large pies

1 bunch beetroot with 3-4 beets and vibrant leaves
1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1 small bunch mint, leaves picked and left whole
1 small bunch thyme, leaves picked

1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped (pith and seeds discarded
for less heat)
1 large red onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 tbsp ground cumin

For the dough
375g wholewheat stoneground flour
1 tsp salt
50ml rapeseed oil

125g warm water
100g live sourdough (or 7.5g instant dried yea
st or 15g live yeast)

Pick the beetroots off the bunch, reserving the stalks and leaves. Cover beets with cold water, bring to a boil, then simmer until soft but still holding their shape. Drain, leave to cool, then peel, chop and put aside.

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, add oil and rub through. Pour the warm water on to the sourdough starter, stir gently to dissolve, then pour into the flour mix and bring together into a ball. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 30-60 minutes until doubled in size. Turn out and knead for five to 10 minutes (or work for five minutes in a food processor with a dough hook). Put in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave in a warm place overnight, until doubled in volume. (The dough can now be frozen for up to three months; just defrost before using.)

Toss all the filling ingredients together well, check seasoning and allow to sit for 30 minutes to wilt the herbs and leaves, and create a sauce. Stir well and proceed to fill the pies.

Gently deflate dough before portioning. For four large pies, divide into 160g balls (65g balls for 10 small pies), then cover with lightly oiled greaseproof paper.

Roll dough into circles on a lightly floured surface. Place a spoonful of filling in the middle. Bring two sides together and pinch to close. Bring the third side up so it looks like a triangle and pinch shut. (You can freeze at this stage for up to three months; bake straight from frozen following the method below, but add 5-8 mins baking time.)

To bake, brush lightly with rapeseed oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt (optional) and place on lightly oiled nonstick trays, then bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C (180 fan) for 10-12 mins, until golden brown and crisp. (The pies can be frozen for up to three months; just defrost and reheat until crisp.)

Delicious hot or cold, with whipped tahini or spicy tomato sauce and a crisp salad.

Sera Gurung, 58

Sera Gurung opened Yak Yeti Yak with his wife, Sarah, 18 years ago to satisfy his desire for an authentic taste of home. He grew up in Armala, northern Nepal, without electricity or tap water. “Fresh vegetables grew outside and we kept buffalo and goats. My siblings and I would watch our mother cook on the open fire in the middle of the house.”

Meat was a luxury and pork was forbidden. “As a boy, I’d travel to get it, then cook it on a fire by myself. It is still my favourite dish on my menu.”

Gurung was studying business in London when he met Sarah in 1989. They returned to Nepal together for five years, before settling in the UK.

At Yak Yeti Yak, tucked away in the basement of three Georgian townhouses, their core team has been with them more than a decade, serving customers on floor cushions, under walls adorned with rice dollies, fish traps, nets and Nepalese art.

At this point in the pandemic, Sarah says, they are still in survival mode. “A few younger, newer staff liked furlough too much,” she says. Young employees saved their wages in lockdown and left when it was time to reopen. “Finding new staff to replace them and extra staff to keep up with Covid sanitation is difficult,” she adds. This has limited their capacity.

Gurung says: “I’ve had people travel to Nepal after eating here, then come back to tell me my food is better. One Michelin chef sends his kitchen porter for takeaway at the end of his shift.

In our culture, a guest is like a god, to be respected. To hear they love the food of my home country feels wonderful.”

Pork belly bhutuwa

Serves 4 with rice, dal and a vegetable dish, or a generous 2 with just rice

450g pork belly strips
1 medium onion, peeled
1 tomato
3-4 spring onions
60ml
rapeseed or vegetable oil
1 tbsp ginger, finely grated

½ tbsp garlic, finely grated

2 ½ t
sp Kathmandu masala (thehimalayanspice company.com) or garam masala
1 tsp salt
60ml water

Cut pork into 3cm squares. Cut onion into quarters from tip to root. Roughly chop tomato. Trim and cut spring onions into 4cm lengths.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-based pan or wok until shimmering, then stir-fry pork belly until browned all over. Add onion, ginger and garlic, fry, stirring, until the onion is translucent, add the masala and salt, and cook for up to a minute, until the spices start sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add water, stir to lift any bits stuck to the bottom and reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook until the pork is cooked through (it should give off lots of juice; if not, add 60ml more water).

Remove the lid, return heat to high and cook until liquid evaporates, pork sizzles and the juices caramelise on the bottom of the pan. Stir and scrape the caramel to prevent it burning; as soon as you have difficulty scraping the caramel from the pan, stir in the tomato, which will lift it as it cooks. Add spring onions, cook long enough to soften slightly, then taste for salt, adjust and serve.

This is a lovely, rich curry that goes well with fried rice, pilau rice or flatbread. As with most Nepalese curries, it is dry; for gravy, add 250ml water and 2 tbsp light soy sauce with the spring onions, and stir well.

Ghofran Hamza, 23

“I didn’t even have time to switch on the kitchen equipment before the pandemic hit,” says Ghofran Hamza, a refugee of the Syrian war who planned to open Aberystwyth’s first Arabic restaurant in March 2020. When she did eventually open the doors, a year later, 200 people queued to eat there. “I will never forget that day,” she says.

After leaving her home, in north-east Syria, for Lebanon in 2012, Hamza’s family relied on UN food parcels. “When war started, we would go out and never know if we’d make it home,” she says. “In Lebanon, we went a long time without work. The house we were in wasn’t fit for animals.”

They were given a home in the UK in 2018. Hamza cooked with her mother and brother (she also has two younger siblings) to raise money for refugee families.

“There is a Syrian community here of about eight families. We wanted to buy children clothes and send them on summer activities. The town loved our food.”

A restaurant was never part of the plan. “But Mum and I walked past a place for rent and called the landlord. He kept rates low for us. People warned me that running a business when we’d been here just a few months would be too much for a young woman, but I saw a chance to create something.”

Hamza is studying for a degree in international politics and Spanish while running the restaurant. She employs two staff – one local person and one student. “Locally, there were many people looking for work but to find someone who has grown up eating or cooking the same food is hard,” she says. “As a girl, I would watch my mum prepare stuffed vine leaves from scratch. When we moved here, she taught me how to cook. Now you can’t tell the difference between her food and mine.

“In Lebanon, I went without food; now I cook for others. My journey has come full circle. It’s hard to think of my friends back home, but when I cook, it’s a little bit of the food we shared.”

Stuffed vine leaves

Serves 6

1 large jar (908g) vine leaves in brine (you can get them at any Middle Eastern food shop; the quality makes a big difference to the dish, so get the best you can afford – I use California Gardens)

For the filling
420g short-grain rice
100g parsley, finely chopped

6 tomatoes, finely chopped

2 big onions, peeled and finely chopped, or 1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
60ml olive oil or vegetable oil

For the spice mix
You can use any spices you wish, but the essentials are:
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp citric acid, or the juice of
4 lemons
1 tbsp salt

In addition
Enough discs of sliced tomato, potato and onion to line your pan (around four slices for a medium pan)

Put all the filling ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix. Before adding the spice mix, try some so you know whether to adjust the flavour by adding more lemon or salt. It should be a bit salty and sour. Combine the filling with most of the spice mix, leaving a little spice back for later. Drain and wash the vine leaves. Lay a leaf soft side down on a board, with the hard side facing up. Spoon the same amount of filling into each leaf, then fold it in at the sides first before rolling it up like a wrap. (The process is quite time-consuming.)

At the bottom of a large, heavy pot, put slices of tomatoes, potatoes or any vegetables you like to prevent the leaves from burning, then cover with a layer of stuffed vine leaves. Add the remaining spice mixture at the bottom of the pot or between each layer of vine leaves to retain flavour. Repeat in layers until all the vine leaves are in the pot. Add water to cover and seal with a plate (you might want to place something heavy on top to keep it in place).

Bring up to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and leave to cook for at least an hour. If they are soft, they are ready; if not, cook for up to 30 minutes more, then serve at room temperature, to six people as a main dish, 12 as a side.

Roberto Alvarado Rios, 71

In autumn, a competitor walked in and tried to poach the Spanish staff at Mestizo, a bright, cosy restaurant and tequila bar in Camden, near Regent’s Park in London. “I was shocked,” says owner Marysol Alvarado. “I would never do that. It shows how desperate the industry is. We had already lost staff from the floor, the kitchen. They left because of the pandemic and never returned because of Brexit. Every restaurant owner is struggling.”

Marysol and husband Roberto came to the UK from a restaurant background in Tecamachalco, central Mexico, in 1997 and opened Si Señor, in Soho, with an ambition to deliver traditional cuisine to Brits. In 2001, though, they were forced to close when the rent went up.

The pandemic threatened financial ruin again – the family put their entire savings into keeping their restaurant, and the Mexican market next door, going. “The supply chain has been menacing,” Marysol says. “The customer may never feel this, and perhaps gets mad about not being able to get served their favourite tipple, but certain food and drink items are just not available any more.”

Now the lively, 80-cover spot is thriving again, thanks to loyal locals and a solid reputation – a favourite dish is mole poblano (meat in a chocolate and chilli sauce). “Our menus are inspired by all parts of Mexico, by my mother and mother-in-law,” Marysol explains. “We are not fancy, but we are ambassadors for the food, flavours, colours of home. When Mexicans come to eat here, they remember when their grannies cooked for them: Mi casa es su casa.”

Chicken enchiladas

Serves 2

300g chicken breast
1 bowl (size to your liking) cooked whole black beans
Cooked rice (amount to your liking)

A little olive or vegetable oil
4 corn tortillas (2 per serving)
300ml salsa verde for enchiladas (
ready made from mestizomarket.com)

Roast or poach the chicken with your preferred seasoning and/or spices, then shred. Heat the beans and rice, ready to be served as sides. Once done, grease a pan with oil and put on a high heat. When the oil is hot, soften the tortillas by dipping them in for five seconds (use tongs), taking care not to leave them too long, as they will go crisp and won’t fold easily. In another pan, warm the salsa verde. Stuff the tortillas with the shredded chicken, roll to enclose the filling, then cover in the hot salsa verde. Serve with the rice and beans.

Comments are closed.