Walk into Darjeeling Express tucked away in Kingly Court, high above the bustling Carnaby Street in Soho and you’ll feel like you just walked into someone’s home.
Aside from the earthy tones of the restaurant, sun-like light and abundant greenery, you will notice the almost vintage feeling photography by esteemed photographer, Ming Tang Evans, in perfectly miss-matched frames presenting Chef Asma Khan’s ancestral homestead in Aligarh, India outside of New Delhi.
These may as well have been pictures that adorned the walls of your home, bringing back good memories.
However, for Asma, the photography isn’t about nostalgia.
Look closely and you will see a picture of her family graveyard. And another of a dark room that her father grew up in, lit by a crack in the wall where the light comes in. There’s something beautiful in every ruin and that comes from every situation, she says.
These photographs are a dedication to her roots. They honour the traditions of where she comes from. Every picture represents a collection of moments where family and friends lived. Where local adversaries solved disputes. And where generations perfected their cuisine.
Asma describes the food she shares at Darjeeling Express as home-style food of the 1930s, from the era of the partition of India. This was Mughlai food, from the border region of India and Pakistan, perhaps even dating back to medieval south Asia. But this culinary tradition started to die out after the partition of India; and when Asma goes back to visit, she increasingly is unable to find those beloved traditional eateries that served her favourites.
And so these collection of photographs are a reminder of the history of Asma’s home cuisine. At Darjeeling Express, she honours, preserves and protects the recipes that have passed through generations so that people of all times and of all places can savour some of it.