Numra shares stories about South Asian culture through food at her Empress Market London supper clubs. She seeks creative ways to explore her South Asian roots through the food she cooks and shares with her guests, and her food is a way to connect with where she’s come from and share her story.
Pakistani cuisine isn’t very well known in the UK for vegan or vegetarian dishes. What can guests expect from your latest supper club?
I find the most showcased Pakistani dishes are non-vegetarian, with chicken biryani, beef or lamb nihari, seekh kababs, just being some of the dishes that come to mind. I can see it in my own family where there always needs to be meat on the dinner table!
But there is such a rich tradition of vegan and vegetarian cooking in Pakistani kitchens that goes unnoticed. Hearty daals, ripe pickles, seasonal vegetable stews with pumpkin, okra, mooli, play an integral role in the cuisine.
At Fassall, the Harvest Supperclub, I want to bring this cooking to the forefront. The menu elaborates the experience of vegan eating on Pakistani dinner tables. I’ll be cooking gorgeous seasonal British produce with Pakistani flavours. Applying my chef experience and training in London, the food is prepared and plated in ways people wouldn’t have had before. Vegetables are at their best during this autumnal harvest season so it felt right to make them the centrepiece at my latest event (Fassall actually means crop or harvest in Urdu!) .
At Fassal, I bring out the best of the ingredients, flavours enhanced through herbs, spices. I also want to explore the various ways they can be cooked, adding dimension through searing on an open fire, frying, slow stewing and pickling – they each give the ingredients a completely unique identity!
You used to work as a documentary filmmaker. Are there any similarities between that and your work now in food?
I changed my career from being a documentary filmmaker to being a chef a few years ago. At first impression it seems like a big change but I feel like I still do the same thing; the only part that’s changed is the medium. I replaced the camera with food as a way to tell stories and capture an experience in my work. I express myself creatively, sharing a part of who I am and what I feel with the world. Both jobs are hard work but I feel incredibly lucky to do what I love.
How would you describe your hosting style?
My hosting style is incredibly warm! I want people to feel like they are coming to my home (even when they are brand new venues!) and enjoying a shared experience between us at my supperclubs and when I cater events.
I like to chat to guests , get to know them and for them to get to know me and my team. I think it’s important the guests know the people behind the food and the passion that made it happen!
I also include spoken word performances, reading or brief talks between courses. It’s unique to the event! That’s what distinguishes supperclubs from a regular restaurant experience – it’s a more personal approach to dining.
What is your desert-island ingredient?
My desert island ingredient would have to be coriander. I really don’t trust people who don’t like the stuff (yes yes I know apparently it’s genetic haha!). But I feel the ingredient is so special – the fresh green leaves and stem can add a pop of citrus and herby brightness with a hint of spice. It’s great eaten raw or stirred into a warm stew to finish off a dish. The dried seeds give an earthy wholeness. Toasted and sprinkled over a salad or added at the beginning of a hearty dish, you can do so much!
What’s the last thing you ate that you can’t stop thinking about?
The dish that I can’t stop thinking about something that I actually haven’t eaten yet and it’s Anna Kim’s kimchi pizza lady Zaza. I saw her episode on Chef‘s table pizza and I was mesmerised with the flavour combination. I’ve been attempting to replicate it in my own kitchen a few times now. It’s been delicious, but I know something is missing. I haven’t stopped recipe testing this pizza, it’s always on my mind!
What themes have you got in the pipeline for future supper clubs that our readers can look out for?
Ooo my mind is always churning with my new ideas for supperclubs! I’m taking bookings for private supperclubs for the festive season – this is a showcase of the feasting dishes! December is party season in Pakistan with weddings and parties. I’d love to emulate that for guests here in London.
In spring 2023 I want to host a supperclub celebrating the festival of kites known as Basant. I’ll have a paper kite making workshop. I’m also going to host a high tea event for Mother’s Day!
I want every supperclub I host to showcase seasonal ingredients and engage with topical issues of today. This means every season brings a new theme! If I repeat the theme, it’s because I know there is so much more of the culinary story to share with guests.