Asma Khan: ‘Restaurants should be ranked on how they treat their people’

The Darjeeling Express chef and star of Netflix’s Chef’s Table on tackling sexism, racism and opening a new restaurant during coronavirus

Asma Khan’s biryani has the power to make you cry. Not in the hyperbolic, internet vernacular sense, where food is considered “amazing”, “divine” or “to die for”. But I took a friend to the farewell supper club at Khan’s restaurant Darjeeling Express, before it moved to a new location, and somewhere between the ceremonial opening of the daig (the cauldron in which the biryani is made) and eating those first few spoonfuls of rice, my friend – a part-time DJ and a full-time cynic – literally began to cry.

“It’s because it’s home,” said Khan sympathetically. Platters from her all-female staffed kitchen came out stacked high, making sure everyone had enough of the tear-jerking biryani to box up for afters. Reviews in the loos were similarly ecstatic. “It’s the taste of my whole childhood,” one middle-aged Indian diner told me in the queue. “Asma has haat ka maza.” It’s a compliment that roughly translates as having hands that hold a magic alchemy, which by south Asian telling can’t be learned by rigidly following recipes but is a gift one either has or hasn’t.

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