“Indian cooking isn’t complicated,” says Sarajit Chanda as we perch on the bar stools that have been set out behind the range in his restaurant kitchen at Fuchsia House. “It’s easy — I’ll show you.”
Over the course of the next 90 minutes, Sarajit does just that, making six different dishes and chatting all the while about the food in his native Bangladesh. Every dish starts with a base of onion, garlic, cumin and turmeric. So much turmeric is used in Bangladesh that Sarah, Sarajit’s wife and business partner, jokes that your toothbrush will turn yellow by the end of a trip there. This food relies on spices, not fat, for flavour. A particularly good tip we picked up is to soak your spices in water for up to 1 hour before you need them, which ensures they won’t burn when you add them to the dish. “If you burn your spices, the whole dish will be ruined,” says Sarajit.
Sarajit takes his spices seriously. He grinds them fresh himself and makes his own custom spice blends, such as the intriguingly named aachari ghost masala (which translates as ‘pickled lamb spice’) and garam masala. The garam masala is made up of 16 spices that he roasts for a unique flavour and is the secret ingredient in their Aruna Sauces. Sarajit also makes his own yoghurt and paneer cheese for use in the restaurant.
So how did Sarajit, originally from Bangladesh, come to own a restaurant in the small market town of Ardee, County Louth, in Ireland? He studied philosophy, politics and history at university, but long before that he’d learned to cook in his mother’s kitchen. “Of course, everyone’s mother is the best cook,” Sarajit says with a smile, “but my mother was the best cook. My friends would stop at my house after school and have half a bowl of my mother’s curry before going to their own houses.” That curry, using his mother’s recipe, has become the signature dish at Fuchsia House and is their best seller.
Sarajit moved to Calcutta, then on to Sydney, where he met Sarah Nic Lochlainn, originally from County Donegal, at the Indian restaurant they were both working at there. After moving to Ireland in 2001, he worked at TriBeCa in Dublin before opening Fuchsia House in 2005, then went on to develop the restaurant-quality Aruna Sauces range in 2009.
Today, we’re getting a behind-the-scenes demo of some of the dishes (lamb roganjosh, chicken curry, dhal, Bengali spiced spinach with prawns, aubergine bhaji and onion bhaji) that will feature on the menu of next week’s Bangladeshi Street Food Meets Irish Craft Beer dinner, where food critic Tom Doorley will be matching the food with Irish craft beers and ciders. “Since the recession, more people are interested in authentic and local food,” Sarajit says. Next week’s dinner combines the best of both worlds, with Sarajit’s traditional cooking with recipes passed down from his mother, made with locally sourced ingredients, paired with craft Irish beer.
By the time all the food is ready, I know mine isn’t the only rumbling tummy. We sit down to a lunchtime feast, passing around the bowls piled high with the food just prepared for us, amidst the flicker of tea lights set in glasses filled with brilliantly coloured spices and lentils.You can get a taste of Bangladeshi street food yourself at next week’s dinner — to book a ticket, click here for details. You can also book a place at the cookery classes held on Saturdays at the restaurant — at €90 for six classes, including lunch afterwards, this has to be one of the best foodie deals in Ireland right now. Or just come for dinner and see for yourself why Ireland’s top food critics rave about this restaurant tucked away in a quiet little town.