Now, thanks to one Glasgow family, the humble pakora is being devoured by everyone from Shetland to Auchtermuchty -- and all stops in between.
Muhammad Wasim and his wife Helen’s variety of handmade pakoras have made such a huge impact in the catering trade in the last few years they could justifiably refer to themselves as the king and queen of pakora.
Introducing daring new flavours such as spinach and broccoli; mushroom, onion and cashew pakoras has earned them an enviable reputation as suppliers of some of the tastiest spicy food this side of Lahore.
Wasim and Helen’s journey from courting couple to humble shop owners to running a burgeoning business began almost 30 years ago when Wasim, who had come from his home in Pakistan to study at Glasgow University, caught the eye of the local supermarket checkout girl.
“Helen worked in the local Presto supermarket on Byres Road,” says Wasim, 50.
“She used to work on the checkout and I used to pop in during my break and say hello. We’ve been married now for 29 years.”
After graduating with a degree in development economics, Wasim fell into a series of unfulfilling jobs before his elder brother Muhammad Nasim stepped in.
He said: “He persuaded me to start a small business. He was, and still is, my mentor.”
Both Wasim and Helen took over the running of a local food store in Woodlands Road.
It wasn’t long, however, before Wasim had an idea that would turn the shop into a West End institution.
“About 15 years ago I fell on the idea of pakora,” says Wasim.
“I thought, I’d like to try something different and I remembered my mum used to make pakora. In fact, all others used to, it was a way of using up leftovers.
“They’d gather up bits of vegetables and mix it all together.
“I thought, why don’t I try it. So, I made some, put it in the shop and everyone loved it.
“That really encouraged me so I began to experiment and I came up with seven types of pakora.”
For the next 15 years, Wasim and Helen served an inventive concoction of pakora and introduced a variety of flavours not seen or tasted before.
Where previously, revellers stopping off at a takeaway on their way home could munch on either vegetable or chicken pakora, Wasim pushed the culinary boat out with such concoctions as mushroom onion and chive, spinach and broccoli, spinach and brie and even mushroom, onion and cashew pakora.
He said: “The basic vegetable pakora was a family recipe but the rest were my own. I’m afraid the customers were my guinea pigs.”
As well as pakora, Wasim and Helen soon expanded into a range of samosas (including the perennial favourite, mince samosa) and a selection of veggie burgers.
“People were buying in bigger quantities and I had been thinking about leaving the shop and starting something on an industrial scale for a while,” adds Wasim.
Much to the chagrin of their loyal band of customers, Wasim and Helen took the great leap five years ago and put their shop up for sale.
“Helen said that if we didn’t make a move now, we’ll be here for the rest of our lives,” says Wasim.
“In 2005 I got up one morning and decided, that’s it, it was a total revelation. I was working until four in the morning at the weekend and I had been doing that for 15 years.”
Now trading under the name Subzi Spice from an industrial unit in Queenslie, the couple began the slow process of building their business as large-scale food suppliers.
Wasim readily admits the first year was their toughest as they were out of their retail comfort zone.
“I started to question myself,” he says, “and ask ‘what have I done’? I remember we only had one chest freezer and a single frier.”
Five years later, at their new larger premises in Springburn, business has blossomed to such an extent, they now have the capacity to produce a tonne of pakora a day.
The family-run business, which also includes the couple’s son Omar and nephew Yusuf, began to grow and it wasn’t long before Wasim’s handmade pakora was available in shops, universities and golf clubs across the country.
“Yusuf and me would get in the van and chose a different direction each day.
“We stopped at every shop with a freezer and showed them samples. It was hard work but two out of every five shops would buy the pakora.”
Their big break came when cash and carry chain Booker agreed to stock their pakora in every one of its Scottish outlets.
“I’ve been told that there is not a single trolley from a caterer which does not contain at least a few bags of our pakora,” beams Wasim.
While he harbours ambitious plans to spread Scotland’s love of pakora to the rest of the UK, Wasim is taking a sensibly cautious approach.
Remaining focused on Scotland for the time being, he has recently opened two retail outlets in Glasgow, under the banner of The Party Food Shop.
With a store each in the Forge, Parkhead, and the Savoy Centre on Sauchiehall Street, it’s son Omar who will take charge of the retail side of the business.
“I want to take pakora to the British high street,” says Wasim.
“Our ambition is to have lots of shops selling the frozen, oven-ready pakoras, samosas, veggie burgers and curries.
“We have rivals but when it comes to authentic pakora, we are the only people in the trade, as far as I know, who do it by hand.
“The minute you introduce machinery it becomes mechanised food and the quality drops.”
With an unwavering passion for his product and seemingly endless energy, Wasim’s dream of supplying the entire UK with his handmade pakora seems inevitable.
But the continuing success of the business is not solely down to Wasim’s evangelical approach to his product. It’s something much more important, he admits.
“In this place, Helen is the rock,” he smiles. “Without her this place would not work. It’s all down to her.”