t the start of lockdown l spent some time trying to learn curries. Idiot-proof chicken tikka masala, moron-resistant massaman, muppet-ready pepper fry. Basic stuff, although not for me.
The curry and rice are improving. Bread is a problem. Even if you can be bothered to make the dough, which I can’t, it’s almost impossible to get a domestic oven hot enough to do it justice.
Dishoom sent me a #gifted bacon naan kit, which circumvents the issue by getting you to cook the bottom of the bread on the hob and the top half under the grill. You can do something similar with pizza.
It’s ingenious but ultimately unsatisfactory, and you still need the dough. Some might argue you don’t “need” bread with a meal like this. I disagree. Rice doesn’t mop. I was resigned to using those thick flavourless supermarket slabs, lowering the tone even if the rest of the meal was up to scratch.
Then l remembered Baban’s Naan, an unprepossessing little shop on Blackstock Road that does naan and nothing but. I’d walked past it a hundred times and thought “ooh” without ever feeling I had an immediate need.
Then one night, with people coming round for one of these experimental curries, I remembered and stocked up. Breads nearly a foot across, three for £1! Who knows how they manage to operate like that. If it wasn’t so delicious, you’d have to assume something dodgy was going on. Still, if anyone knows of a better carbohydrate per pound, please, please write in.
With this heap of warm, light, chewy, moreish bread on the table, still steaming from Baban’s oven, nobody cared about the rest of the meal. You could microwave a jar of supermarket korma paste and you’d still get thank you cards. There are plain naans, peshwari naans, naan covered in a thick dusting of tangy, toasty za’atar, all delicious. The only letdown are the garlic and cheese naans, which come slick in margarinish oil.
Now that I leave the neighbourhood less than I used to, I go to Baban’s all the time. It’s a tiny space, basically a little room out back for preparing dough, a tandoor to get the bread up to 400 degrees, a tiny fryer, a counter and a fridge. That’s it. It’s been going for years, but currently run by Farhad, an Iranian Kurd who took over the family business a year ago. Things are getting back to normal, he says, but it’s been a tough year.
They don’t do restaurant wholesale, so the whole business is in plain breads and a few wrapped fillings: Kurdish kebabs of minced lamb patties, freshly fried falafel, kubba of lamb and chicken, all priced absurdly low.
The £3.50 falafel wrap, in particular, is award-worthy. It’s a pity that in 2020 it’s socially unacceptable just to eat bread for lunch, because really the fillings are an excuse for the bread, in the same way high-end sushi is meant to be about the rice.
There are naan shops everywhere, as I’d have learnt if I tried to cook curry seriously before my mid-30s. Ararat on the Ridley Road, Fresh Naan in Walthamstow, to name two in my quadrant of London. Coronavirus has been terrible for hospitality businesses, and the worst is yet to come. When Pret’s in trouble, nobody’s safe, but for now there’s comfort in simple pleasures. They don’t come much simpler, or more pleasurable, than naan, hot from the oven.
Baban’s Naan, 51a, Blackstock Rd, Finsbury Park, London N4 2JW: open daily, 07771 112242
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