Meet the 63-Year-Old ‘Auntie’ Making Glasgow’s Favorite Samosas
Served with chickpeas and tamarind chutney, Glasgow Sweet House’s samosas are the work of "Auntie" Nasreen. “All of my friends’ daughters come here to get them,” she says. “I’m flattered everyone likes them.”
It's early on a Monday morning at Glasgow Sweet House and "Auntie" Nasreen is mixing dough to make 200 samosas. Her lunchtime deadline means she needs to work fast before it gets busy, as the deep-fried triangles are always in high demand.
Filled with lamb and served with chickpeas, tamarind chutney, and spicy yogurt, the Pakistani eatery's samosa salad is one of the only of its kind in Glasgow. When I arrive at the Sweet House to find out more, I'm immediately welcomed with a cup of masala chai.
"She is one of our girls," I hear someone say in Punjabi.
Across Scotland, South Asian sweet shops like this one that double as purveyors of savoury takeaway snacks are becoming increasingly popular. Every morning, kitchen staff alternate between preparing kebabs, biryani, and fresh sweets like mithai. As I sip my tea, I watch one worker throw two rotis into the tandoor oven while another stretches out a sticky orange paste with his hands before dipping into sugar water to make a sweet known as jalebi.
But it's the samosa salads I'm particularly interested in.
"We make our samosas fresh every morning and you can really taste all the flavours coming out," owner Mohammed Hanif explains in Urdu as he chops fenugreek leaves for another dish. "It is important to keep all the ingredients fresh. We want customers to feel as if they're homemade."
Auntie Nasreen carries a large pot of the lamb filling to the worktop, then rotates a circular-shaped piece of pastry on a pan.
"I start making the samosa fillings early in the morning," she says shyly, rolling out the pastry. "Sometimes I need to make them fast because they are very popular."
With Auntie Nasreen busy working the pastry, delicate traces of henna on her fingertips, I feel as if I've been transported to a family kitchen in Pakistan. She folds the pastry and stuffs it with the vegetable masala mixture of potatoes, onions, peas, and spices before combining flour and water in a bowl. This creates a wet paste used to line and seal the triangles.
"It looks easy but isn't it a hard job?" I ask.
In South Asian households, arguments often arise over whose mum makes the best samosas. It takes a skilled cook to shape each parcel perfectly, ensuring they don't burst when deep-fried.
"All of my friends' daughters come here specially to get samosas," Auntie Nasreen says. "I'm flattered everyone likes them."
She didn't learn how to make them in her native Pakistan but only after arriving in Glasgow.
"As with everything, you learn slowly," Auntie Nasreen explains. "I started helping relatives at home and went from there. In this kitchen, there is certainly a lot to learn, as you can see."
In Pakistani culture, it's uncommon for women to work in catering but the 63-year-old isn't worried by this. Hanif does however interrupt our lesson to demonstrate a quicker method of making samosas. Using a pastry brush for the flour paste, he puts together three parcels in ten seconds.
"Auntie uses the old fashion tradition method, I like to go modern," he laughs.
Originating from the Middle East, samosas were brought to the Indian subcontinent by traders in the 13th century. Many regional varieties, including those with stuffed with noodles or sweet fillings, exist but South Asian immigration brought the popular spicy filling to the UK.
By now, it's 11 AM and customers have started to gather at the Sweet House.
"I love the samosas here," one man says, standing at the counter. "I get them twice a week around this time when they're fresh from the frying pan. It's something special to Glasgow that you get this amazing combination of salad, chickpeas, and samosas. It's quick, fresh, good food and the chutney gives you a little kick to get through the rest of the day."
Another customer asks for her order to be extra spicy.
"I work around here so me and my boss treat ourselves to a samosa salad once a week and we love it because you don't get it anywhere else," she explains. "I think it's better than other street foods and it's almost as if it's home cooked."
As the shop gets busy, Afaq, who has been working in the Sweet House kitchen for the past five years, combines coriander and green chillies in blender to make extra chutney.
"This is the most multicultural part of Glasgow," he explains. "We have Romanians, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, and the Polish. Food is a big part of what brings us together."
It's also part of South Asian culture to show hospitality by serving your guests copious amounts of food. After eating a samosa, pakoras, and the freshly made jalebi, I'm offered yet more food and talked into having a roti and lamb masala for lunch.
"Everyone orders samosa salads, not just school children," Afaq adds. "Scottish people love it and even the spicy chutney doesn't put them off. We have people from all communities coming here. I like the fact that you only get it in Glasgow."
When I come back to the kitchen, Auntie Nasreen asks me what the customers had to say about her samosas.
Unsurprisingly, she's happy with the feedback.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in February 2016.