I wasn’t sure I’d understood. “You want me to just stick it to the side of the oven?” I asked. “With my hand?”
“Yes, yes” said Bangladeshi chef Anhar Ali, making the motion with his own hand.
I looked at the naan bread that covered my hand. I looked into the baking-hot clay tandoor oven. I briefly wished I’d asked for rice.
Then, using the naan bread as my oven glove, I tentatively reached into the heat and pressed the dough against the side of the tandoor.
It stuck. No one was burnt. Nobody went “oh my God, that’s not what we meant”.
And a couple of minutes later, I was using long-handled metal tongues to prise my naan back off the oven’s side and onto a plate.
“Very good” said chef, kindly. “A couple of little holes, but I would give you 95 per cent.”
Did you know that’s how a traditional Indian restaurant does their naans? Slapped against the hot inside of a curving clay oven? Well, I didn’t.
It was one of a hundred little facts and tips I picked up at a fascinating Indian cookery workshop at the Shagorika, the oldest Indian restaurant in Market Harborough.
The Shagorika opened in town in 1980. “A first class meal” reported the Harborough Mail’s reviewer in the first week. The best part of 40 years later, and under comparatively new owners, it’s on top form again.
In fact, it’s so confident, it’s experimenting with this cookery workshop, where amateurs get to spend an hour or so in the restaurant’s small kitchen (four metres by three-and-a-half I’d guess), cooking their own Indian meal under Anhar Ali’s encouraging, watchful gaze.
Tonight it’s me, marketing expert Lisa Butler and hospital governance manager Judy Corlett. We’re all cooking different dishes, but we’re starting in a very familiar way – chopping vegetables.
Anyone who’s ever made soup will be familiar with stage one of the curry process.
Onions, carrots, garlic and peppers are chopped small and stir-fried before liquid and ingredients like ginger, tomato puree and Mr Ali’s own spice mix turn it into a sort of thick curry soup. It will be the basis of all our dishes.
While it’s bubbling, we have a go at samosas, the origami of the food world. The ladies seem to master the folding and sealing techniques quite well; me, perhaps less so.
Then it’s back to the main course, as Judy spears three generous portions of marinaded chicken onto a long metal skewer and places it into the tandoor.
Meanwhile we’re all adding different ingredients to the basic vegetable stock we’ve created to get a bhuna (Lisa), a jalfrezi (Judy) and a khana khazana (me).
And in the restaurant, front-of-house boss Muhit Munir is serving a couple of actual early Tuesday customers.
As Lisa slices the chicken to add to our sauces, we’re already thinking what a fantastic opportunity this has been.
And as we sit in the restaurant to sample what we’ve done,it all tastes amazing. Honestly. Even my tentative naan bread.
“All my life I’ve wanted to do this” said Judy. “It’s one off my bucket list!”
“It’s such a great opportunity to go behind the scenes” said Lisa. “I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Personally, I would happily do the whole thing again. I’ve had my turn though – I’ll have to make do with being a paying customer.
But if you’d like to apply for the Shagorika cookery workshop, email firstname.lastname@example.org