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5 tonnes of tandoori paste? No problem
21st October 2008

Sonargaon restaurant
Sonargaon restaurant

         I had never been to London's famous Brick Lane so when I received an invitation to the Sonargaon restaurant in adjoining Osborn Street I thought I'd go along and have a look round.

Brick Lane has a reputation for housing over 50 Bangladeshi restaurants in the short walk between Osborn Street and the old Truman brewery. I didn't actually count the restaurants as I strolled up and down Brick Lane but I reckon there might well be one for every week of the year. It's a bit of a scruffy place in the unforgiving light of a sunny autumn day but even at 11 o'clock in the morning it's buzzing with life and gearing up for the serious business of lunch.

I'd been invited to the Sonargaon to mark the launch of a new range of catering products made by a company called Simtom. Now, you may not have heard the name before (I hadn't) but, if you live in the UK, you'll almost certainly have tasted some of their ingredients in supermarket curries. Not only that but quite a few restaurants use their pastes as well.

Simtom are one of the unsung heroes of the Indian food business. Things wouldn't be the same without them but the public has never heard of them.

It all started in the early 1970's when the Chandarana family came to Britain from Tanzania. Jai Chandarana spotted an opportunity to make a living by importing Indian pickles and chutneys in bulk and bottling them for the British market. Like a lot of success stories he started in tiny premises but the company now operates from their own large factory in Desford, Leicestershire. They no longer import any finished products but make everything from scratch in the Desford factory. Simtom have significant plans to expand and have just bought the unit next door to their factory so they will have the potential to double capacity in the future. That future also involves Jai's family and his son Bhavin is now in charge of the development of the business.

So what are these pastes that Simtom make? Not all restaurants have enough staff with the expertise to make every item on the menu themselves. Garlic and ginger pastes, for example, are staples for all Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants. Some restaurants will make the pastes themselves. Other cost conscious restaurants will buy them in from companies like Simtom. Many restaurants buy in pastes to use in the marinade for their tandoori and tikka dishes and also masala paste to flavour their curries.

"Every Friday" Jai proudly tells me "we ship out 5 tonnes of tandoori paste". 5 tonnes? That's 5,000 kilos or over 11,000 pounds. However you measure it that will make a hell of a lot of tandoori chicken. Some will go to restaurants and the rest will go to ready meal manufacturers. Jai assures me that he can tell straight away if one of his products has been used in a supermarket curry just by reading the list of ingredients for whatever paste has been used.

So what do all these pastes and stuff taste like? Pretty good actually. Our old friend "Banglachef" Tommy Miah is the famous face endorsing Simtom products and he supervised the cooking of a lunch we all enjoyed where each dish used at least one of Simtom's pastes, sauces or dips. I can assure you that my fellow diners, mostly British Bangladeshis, certainly enjoyed the food so that's quite an endorsement in itself.

Although, like me before my visit to Brick Lane, you may never have heard of Simtom that could all be about to change. Another of their new initiatives is a range of sauces for the home market. I didn't get the opportunity to taste any of those but they have an excellent pedigree. Simtom commissioned a former winner of the International Indian Chef of the Year Competition, Shamim Syed, to create their new "Restaurant Style" range of cook-in sauces and marinades. I have tasted Shamim's food in the past and I can vouch for its quality but if you've ever eaten at his Durbar restaurant in London's Bayswater you'll know for yourself.

On my way out of the Sonargaon I said goodbye to Jai and Bhavin Chandarana and asked them if I could come up and see their factory in action some time. They told me a good time would be when they've commissioned the new extension to the factory so I'll be hot-footing it up to Leicestershire some time in 2009. Watch this space for my report.
Bhavin and Jai Chandarana
Bhavin and Jai Chandarana

Tommy Miah in full flow
Tommy Miah in full flow

Shamim Syed and Jai Chandarana
Shamim Syed and Jai Chandarana

related links :

Simtom Food Products
Tommy Miah
Durbar restaurant
Bangladesh Caterers Association

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© 2008 David W Smith