“I love telling people ‘this is my aunty’s recipe’” - the tiny Urmston takeaway making magnificent ‘heat at home’ curries

By Ben Arnold | 10 April 2024

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“This is like how Indian families eat at home,” says Baljit, chef extraordinaire, chief marketer, founder and owner of Banga Curries. 

“It’s home cooking. I don’t use base sauces, everything is cooked the traditional way. I’m always chasing certain flavours that my mum would make, or my aunties would make. You know when you find it, everything just feels right.”

But Banga is not your average takeaway. From her tiny kitchen unit in Urmston, she produces these homely, home-cooked curries which she packages up for you to take off and heat up, as and when you want them.

It’s a simple idea, but also kind of genius. Anyone who’s made a curry one day, and then returned to it a few days later once the flavours have had a chance to mingle and get to know each other better will know this is the way.

Banga Curries Urmston

Now imagine that, but conjured by a skilled chef with a recipe book bulging with passed-down family recipes.

In a former life, Baljit worked for a catering company, touring the UK festival circuit and feeding the armies of hairy-arsed roadies, staff and other road crew. Then it was on to work for Paul Heathcote at his Simply Heathcotes and Olive Press restaurants, followed by stints at Wagamama and then as head chef at Tampopo, which ‘nearly killed me!’, she jokes.

On a busy day, Baljit and the 20 chefs that worked under her would feed over 500 people during a single service at the Trafford Centre branch. “Head chefs have a bit of an expiry date, because it’s so busy all the time,” she says. So after helping Tampopo centralise its production, she decided to take some family time, had a baby, and then a much-needed rethink about what her future might look like.

The idea for Banga arrived from an unexpected place, however. Baljit’s husband runs an engineering business in Lancashire. One lunch time, one of his engineers brought in a takeaway from a newly-opened cafe, proclaiming it to be the best curry he’d ever eaten.

Baljit’s husband tasted it, and immediately said ‘if you think this is good, I’ll ask my wife to cook us something’. “I cooked some lunch for them all, and they asked if I could do it every week,” she says. “People on the industrial estate would smell it, and come in and ask what it was. I ended up cooking for loads of businesses across Lancashire.”

Banga was born. But born on a tiny, four-burner home stove. “My pans were getting bigger, my friends found out, and they wanted some, then I’m doing spreadsheets and it took over my house,” she says. She’d have a queue in her front garden for pick ups, which during lockdown she had to ensure was socially distanced.

Out of necessity, she moved into her premises in Urmston two years ago, building her pristine kitchen in an old sweet shop, but has kept it under the radar, all word of mouth and little marketing. But the secret is now getting out.

With food this exceptional, this was always going to happen. It helps because it’s different not just in how its served – cold, taken home, heated up – but in its execution too. “What you find in most takeaways is that there is a base gravy, and different spices are added to whatever gets ordered,” she says.

“The problem with that is that there’s always an underlying similar flavour, and not only that, all the sauces are a similar consistency. Not all curries are the same. In some curries, the onions might be cut differently, stewed differently, fried differently. The ‘tarka’, how the sauce starts off, is different with every curry. Every single curry starts differently.

“In takeaways, often the meat will be braised separately in a stock. I don’t do that. I cook it all together, as we would do at home.”

Some have needed a little convincing over Baljit’s homestyle cooking. The menu, which changes every single month and works seasonally, barely features any of the ‘classic’ takeaway recipes, nor mixed grills, nor those throwaway little bags of warm salad.

“I have to talk some people through it. They say ‘oh I can’t have lamb, it’s tough’. I have to tell them nothing comes out of this kitchen tough.

“Sometimes people don’t get their head around straight away, warming them up themselves too. It means you don’t have to wait there, starving, for a delivery guy. At first they think it’s not as practical, but it also means you can have it whenever you want.  I have to convert people sometimes, but once they’re in, they don’t look back.”

Banga Curries Urmston

Raised in Birmingham, Baljit’s parents are from Northern Punjab, so her cooking takes influences from everything from Punjabi to Nepalese to Pakistani cuisines. “We love cooking with butter,” she says. “Some recipes are from family, some are made up, some from research. The classic Banga chicken curry – that’s my maiden name, and the town my parents are from – is my mum’s recipe. 

“It’s the most basic, honest chicken curry, but it’s so nice. It’s been done by eye and by taste for so many years, it’s hard to describe why it’s so good. I went to see my family a few months ago, and all my aunties brought something. One of them made a pumpkin curry.

“It was the most gorgeous thing ever. Not the most pretty curry in the world, but the flavours… I put it on the menu the next week. I loved doing that. And then I loved telling people ‘this is my aunty’s recipe’.”

So these dishes are as authentic as you can possibly get. In the back, Baljit with her two newly employed cooks – to cope with the increasing demand – are blending a faintly pink, Keralan king prawn curry, with coconut, curry leaves, mustard seed and musky Kashmiri chilli. There are only a few ingredients, and it’s made quickly, in about 30 minutes, but somehow it’s deep. Complex.

See also the Amritsari chicken, made with overnight marinated thighs, masala spices and a little splash of cream to counter the tomato and add richness. The garlic chilli naans, made in the furnace of a tandoor, are as light as can be, and there’s even a kids curry – ‘My First Chicken Curry’ with the chilli heat taken out – for the novices. Or swing by at lunch time, and you can get a lunch box with rice for a wildly reasonable £6.

Her work here is truly exceptional. And say you were particularly unscrupulous, you could even head to Baljit’s place, stock up, heat it all up at home and then pass it all off as your own. Though we’d never condone that sort of thing.

Or would we…

Banga Curries, 102A Higher Rd, Urmston, Manchester M41 9AP
Weds, 3-7pm, Thu and Fri, 11am-7pm