Before the food market in Temple Bar’s Meeting House Square opens each Saturday, Aanchal Shukla simmers two small batches of chutney.
She prepares a red chutney with Kashmiri chillies. For the green chutney, she uses coriander, cumin and roasted chana dal, a split chickpea, which gives it an essential thickness.
It takes a couple of hours, says the co-founder of the Indian street food stall Dehli2Dublin, while seated in a cafe in Drimnagh. “And in those hours, it is just a small quantity produced.”
That isn’t a problem, though, she says. You don’t want leftovers, because the flavour fades at the end of each day.
The chutneys are made for the Bombay grilled sandwich, one of the stall’s most popular items, says her husband and co-founder Adarsh Shukla. “We want their flavours intact until the very last sandwich is made.”
It is two toasted slices of white bread, covered in the chutney spread, and filled with steamed and grated potato, cheese, tomato and onion.
“At the end of the day, it is just a sandwich,” says Adarsh.
But when he hears Aanchal describe it, each detail makes his mouth water, he says. “There is a lot of work that goes into it, to bring out its flavours.”
Sprinkled into the sandwich is a masala made from ten spices, mixed and grounded, says Aanchal. “And when you taste these, you really feel it.”
The feeling that the couple say they are looking to capture through the sandwich is the sensation of eating out on the streets of Bombay.
Their menu was conceived as a guide to the wide range of street food styles found across India, says Adarsh. “Our plan is to bring in street foods from all of India’s states.”
The Long Game
Aanchal and Adarsh Shukla met eight years ago at university in Chennai, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Both were from Delhi. Both were enrolled to study computer science.
Food was a mutual interest. Both wanted to somehow involve food in their careers, Adarsh says. “We didn’t know how we’d do it or where we’d do it. We didn’t have a plan.”
After graduating, they decided to study for master’s degrees and signed up for courses at Griffith College on the South Circular Road in September 2018.
They spent their first month at a hostel near Temple Bar, Adarsh says. “I wasn’t able to sleep for like three nights.”
One Saturday though they wandered down to the food market nearby on Meeting House Square, he says, and grew curious. They asked around about opening a stall.
It wasn’t possible on student visas, says Aanchal. “A lot of brands were lined up for stalls. There was no chance a beginner would be able to set something up.”
During the pandemic, though, an opportunity arose.
Aanchal’s mother, Chandra Sharma, had been running a small food business back in Delhi, which had been impacted by Covid-19.
“We thought my mum should come here because it wasn’t safe there,” she says.
Her mother’s one rule was that if she was going to move, then she would need to work, Aanchal says. “She told me ‘I cannot sit idle, otherwise I’m not coming.’”
They decided this was a sign. But a restaurant would have been too costly to open, Adarsh says. Eventually, they settled on a stall.
In July 2021, the couple married at the Indian Embassy. Together, they applied to bring Aanchal’s mother over.
Four months later, her mother, with three decades of culinary experience, arrived and the family set about creating Dehli2Dublin.
The trio launched their kitchen in late May 2022, and the stall began operating in the Meeting House Square every Saturday on 5 June.
From the get-go, Sharma helmed the majority of the cooking, Adarsh says. “We just assist her as much as we can.”
On Saturday last, the sun broke through the grey afternoon clouds over Temple Bar.
Under their square white canopy in Meeting House Square, Adarsh Shukla and Chandra Sharma attend to the customers, more of them arriving as the weather improves.
Sharma quietly stands behind a glass counter, preparing gobi paratha, a cauliflower-stuffed flatbread.
She spreads ghee, an aromatic clarified butter, across the surface of the bread as it heats on an electric countertop griddle.
Served with a tomato raita and a mint yoghurt, the paratha’s outer layer is sweet and greasy, and its savoury stuffing is flavoured with garam masala.
As Sharma is perched over the griddle, Shukla stands by a metal platter of stuffed bread pakoras, and a clear cylindrical container in which vegetable momos, a dumpling popular in North India, are steaming.
Shukla handles all queries, breaking down what goes into each item on the menu and injecting into each conversation a dose of personal advice.
He opens up a glass container filled with dense, sweet balls known as laddu. Some are made from flour and sugar. Others, from coconut, lightly scented with cardamon.
Dropping one of the coconut laddu into a paper bag, he says it is a festive treat that should be eaten after the main meal. “But, I’ll sometimes eat one before too.”
Taste of Home
At the heart of the menu is a trio of homely vegetarian curries; chhole, a chickpea chana masala; kadhi made with curds, garam masala and turmeric; and raajma, which is a dark red masala, filled with kidney beans and topped with crispy onion flakes.
Aanchal says that, while students in Dublin, they craved such dishes. “We tried some restaurants and we didn’t find it satisfactory.”
They all tasted too samey, she says, like a generic restaurant. “I believe that ‘restaurant’ is a spice that is added to the food.”
Aanchal says they spent an age searching in vain for a place that did parathas too.
They didn’t want to cook what was already popular in the city, says Adarsh. They wanted to broaden the city’s palate and bring them on a tour of the different street food dishes consumed across their home country.
“The rice, the curries, they are from the Punjab side of India,” Aanchal says, in the north.
Meanwhile, their vegetable momos are a street food popular in North-East India. “These dimsums are named momos up there, and we have kept that name.”
Chandra Sharma, the couple both agree, is the visionary behind their stall.
Adarsh still recalls with deep fondness the first dish she cooked for him. It was a chicken curry, he says.
“I still don’t know what to call it, because I’ve tasted and eaten chicken all my life,” he said. “I just call it Mom’s Special.”
Her style of cooking draws on a life spent in Delhi, he says, but relates a lot too to Punjabi cuisine, with this influence most apparent in the stall’s curries.
“When she starts cooking, she just puts her heart out there,” he says. “She wants to make it the best, and since she came here, we’re getting a lot fatter because of that.”