Mex­i­can favourite to add a lit­tle spice

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - By Su­mayya Us­mani Su­mayya Us­mani co-presents BBC Ra­dio Scot­land’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Sum­mers Un­der The Ta­marind Tree and Moun­tain Ber­ries And Desert Spice are out now, pub­lished by Frances Lin­coln Visit sumayyaus­ Twitter @SumayyaUs­mani

MY trav­els on the many mer­chant navy ships my fa­ther cap­tained ex­posed me to in­ter­na­tional cuisines from an early age. My mother pre­pared ev­ery meal, and to­day I can never think of a life with­out home-cooked food on the ta­ble, no mat­ter how sim­ple the meals them­selves might have been. So know­ing how to cook comes nat­u­rally to me. But if you grow up in an area with lit­tle ac­cess to good food, or with par­ents who have lit­tle pas­sion for cook­ing, where do you find your ini­tial in­spi­ra­tion to cook?

Some­times it sim­ply arises from a de­sire to eat well: Nigel Slater’s mother’s burnt toast, for ex­am­ple, led him to be­come the cook and food writer he is to­day.

If there is one cui­sine that I en­joy as much as Pak­istani food, it is Mex­i­can. The heat and carb­heavy ac­com­pa­ni­ments, all speak com­fort and spice. Re­cently, the brightly coloured fa­cade of Lupe Pin­tos – a shop boast­ing Mex­i­can and His­panic food in Glas­gow’s west end – caught my eye, so I de­cided to seek out the man who set it up. Raised in the ship­build­ing town of Greenock, Dougie Bell was drawn to his great aunt’s Ed­in­burgh kitchen where she in­spired him to cook. Sud­denly, creat­ing sim­ple food such as pies, soups and bread, seemed mag­i­cal. Even­tu­ally he left home to travel and earn money and found him­self in Spain and Amer­ica from his late teens through to his early 20s. He be­came fas­ci­nated by what oth­ers ate, their food cul­tures and ap­proach to life.

On his trav­els, Mex­i­can food re­ally stood out, with its ex­plo­sion of flavours and fresh­ness. When he went to Spain he couldn’t work out why Bri­tish peo­ple on hol­i­day would want Bri­tish food there and not Span­ish, when it was so ex­cit­ing. It was at this stage that Dougie’s mis­sion to ed­u­cate peo­ple about lo­cal flavours, and sup­ply spe­cial­ist in­gre­di­ents to like­minded food lovers, was born.

Dougie be­gan his ca­reer in food by run­ning Scot­land’s first Mex­i­can restau­rant, Pachuko Cantina, fol­low­ing a trip to Los An­ge­les where he tasted Mex­i­can street food for the first time. He left his job and de­cided to run this restau­rant for three years un­til the travel bug bit him again and he handed over the busi­ness to a cus­tomer and went on a year-long voy­age across Amer­ica and Mex­ico. Upon his re­turn his pas­sion to sup­ply Scot­land with all the in­gre­di­ents and flavours he had dis­cov­ered on trav­els, led to him open­ing Lupe Pin­tos in 1991.

“Lupe Pinto is the name of lady in Mex­ico,” Dougie tells me. “The mother of friends, she took on the role of our Mex­i­can mother. Lupe made sure we be­haved our­selves and helped us in times of need. She was fan­tas­tic and we named the shop in hon­our of her.

Asked to ex­plain the suc­cess of such a niche store, he says: “Food cul­ture in the UK was chang­ing and is still chang­ing. When peo­ple travel and get a taste of other cul­tures, they try and get a taste of what they ex­pe­ri­enced back home.” Cus­tomer de­mand for the store’s pro­duce is boosted by the pro­duc­tion of recipe sheets and Dougie’s three cook books, which are avail­able in store.

The books have in­trigu­ing ti­tles: Two Cooks And A Suit­case, Half Canned Cooks and The Mex­i­can Wrestlers Cook Book. This last con­tains up-to-date Mex­i­can street food recipes by Dougie and fel­low sauce pro­ducer Rolando Cardenas, both of whom are wrestling fans and en­thu­si­as­tic food­ies. Dougie has self-pub­lished as he feels no-one would pub­lish “such odd books or I would have to change them to suit the masses”.

In­trigued by his shop’s well­known yearly “chilli cook-off” I ask where the idea came from. “The chilli cook-off started in Glas­gow be­cause lo­cals kept say­ing, ‘You are on the wrong side of Kelvin Bridge’,” says Dougie. “I thought, it’s only a bridge. Glas­gow is fa­mous for these self-in­flicted bound­aries. I thought I would cre­ate an event that would have peo­ple flock­ing across the bridge and show them that the short walk is worth­while. The cook-off has turned into a Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh in­sti­tu­tion and to­gether with other events is an es­sen­tial mar­ket­ing tool. It’s also good fun and al­lows me the rare priv­i­lege to so­cialise with my cus­tomer base.”

I think I will be tak­ing part next year, Dougie, as I make a mean chilli!

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