On Dorset Street, the Authentic Tastes of Mumbai

Venu Sood hasn’t got the sign up yet, but she has already had to close early because she sold out. Cakes N’ More opened three days ago on the corner of Dorset Street and Blessington Street.

Sood, a “Bombay girl” born and bred, as she calls herself, using the old name of the Indian city of Mumbai, said she thought it time Dubliners had some decent, cheap Indian street food. Or, if they prefer, some eggless cake.

Early Tuesday morning, Sood was stood inside the tiny deli, getting ready for the day ahead. The space contains just the kitchen, a fridge and a small area with several plastic chairs.

A trained accountant, she left Mumbai and settled in London in 1998. That’s where her food business was born. In 2011, she set up an Indian deli in Croydon, and then, in April 2015, she opened a second in Wallington.

She’s visited Dublin several times, and so she decided this city was next on the list.

“I know London inside out, I’ve been there 18 years,” she says. “I know my audience, I know my market but here it’s giving people a different taste and feeling people’s taste buds.”

She offers me some poha, a traditional breakfast dish consisting of flattened rice flakes, spices (predominantly chilli) and nuts.  Sood says she reckons there’s definitely a gap in the market where proper Indian street food is concerned.

“No Indian would ever have a deli without one aspect of street food,” she says. “We wanted to give people something different. You can get a curry, you can get daal anywhere … so give people’s taste buds something they wouldn’t get in a restaurant.”

Everything, she says, is made fresh daily.

With a vegetarian upbringing, Sood’s deli features no meat but offers a cheap and cheerful selection of veggie snacks and dishes for hungry Northsiders.

There are samosas and panipuri — a fun dish with a hollowed out crispy ball given a dunk in tamarind water — alongside a selection of dips: green chutney for the mildly inclined or “Indian gunpowder” for the spice-seeker.

Vada, fried vegetables and spices, come in a freshly made bap. “The dishes are very authentic Indian street food,” she says. “I’m a Bombay-ite, I’m a Bombay girl. Street food has always been a part of my life.”

And the cakes? Those, says Sood, are a different story altogether.

An Eggless Offering

Sood’s mother Urmila once challenged her some years ago. There was no way one could make a decent cake without eggs, she said.

Sood had heard differently though, and one night, while back in Mumbai, she learned how.

“I had a flight at 2am back to London and I got a phone call at 8pm from a friend saying, ‘This lady is ready to teach you how to make them if you can be here in an hour,’” she recalls. “I was there until nearly midnight!”

But she had the recipe and now offers eight different flavours of eggless cake in her Dorset Street deli, which, she finds, many vegetarians appreciate.

Some are classics, like Black Forest gateaux. Others are more unusual: pineapple, pistachio, and mango. The sponge is light and airy with a layer of flavoured cream in the centre.

The taste, not the look, is key, says Sood. “Being an Indian and being a Bombay-ite I’m very particular about the flavours,” she says. “I strongly believe you cannot make quality dishes without quality ingredients.”

Her husband, Siraj, persuaded her to open the deli and to make Dublin home, which she intends to do once things settle a bit. The reaction, even before she opened on Sunday, has taken her aback somewhat.

Behind the counter, Sood’s brother Sukhpal helps the delivery man lug the new oven into place. “We’re nearly operational,” she laughs, despite the demand for them to open earlier than intended.

“We intend to open 11am until 8pm, but for the past three days we’ve just sold out so quickly,” says Sood. “People are messaging me saying ‘You were supposed to be open until 8!’ ‘But it’s sold out,’ I said!”

Sood thinks she knows her audience well but hopes more Irish customers will come along in the near future. For now, fellow Indians are on board, it would seem.

“I did a bit of research and put it on Facebook, reaching out to the Indian community in Ireland,” she says. “Oh my lord, people were just like, ‘Where? When are you opening?’”

Dorset Street, with its panoply of pubs and kebab shops, is just the spot, Sood says. Rents are cheaper, and, with a vegetarian menu, her costs are low.

“The spot is very important in any business,” she says. “I didn’t want to go very huge from day one. I didn’t want to build my Rome in one day!”

Her prices are very reasonable. For smaller dishes, like poha, it’s €2.50. Most of the snacks and the larger ones hit €4. A slice of eggless cake comes in at €3. Cheap and cheerful, says Sood.

“It helps the local community, a place like this,” she says. “I cannot stock coriander and mint. I have to buy it from the local market. So at the same time that I’m making money I am giving back to the community by helping the local businesses grow. I need potatoes, onions, basic stuff I can get locally.”

It’s early days and she’s keeping it fairly simple: four dishes on offer daily, and eight different flavours of eggless cake.

By the end of the week, says Sood, the deli will hopefully have a sign. For now, it’s stuck in customs at Dublin Port.

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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