When you think of Indian food, you might think curry, you might think rice. One thing you maybe wouldn’t think is cheese – but Coventry’s Paneer Wrap Street Food Company is aiming to change all that with its delicious wraps filled with paneer, otherwise known as Indian cheese.
“Anywhere you can put chicken, you can put cubes of paneer” says business owner Dev. “It’s a lot like halloumi, but as I explain to customers, it doesn’t contain salt, it doesn’t melt and it absorbs flavours really well. People who’ve never had paneer before, their mind is blown. I even met a lady last weekend” he chuckles “who told me she didn’t like cheese – but she ended up eating most of her husband’s wrap!”
The idea of creating street food based around paneer came from a barbecue Dev put on for friends. He said “I’ve been vegetarian all my life, so I got the veggie patties, veggie sausages – but wanting to add something a bit different, I bought a load of paneer and marinated it with the help of my mum. When the barbecue kicked off, I started cooking it on a hot plate, and my guests made a bee-line for it. It smelled lovely, it looked great, and from there on in, people were shouting at me ‘you need to turn this into a business!’”
Right from the get-go, Dev realised that branding was something he had to get right. “In India” he said “paneer is huge; but over here, if you’re not a vegetarian who eats in Indian restaurants, you’ve probably never heard of it. When I got my gazebo, which is where I cook my food at events, I knew it needed to stand out, engage people, get them asking ‘what’s a paneer wrap’?”.
His clever way of achieving that was to drape the gazebo in black. “The dark environment contrasts with the colourful food” he explained “and draws your eyes to it. And we create theatre by cooking front of you so you can see and smell how fresh everything is. All our salads are freshly cut, we source as locally as we can, and I grow some of the salad veg myself”.
So how did he develop his products? “We do two paneers” he said. “The tikka-style ‘traditional one’ is marinated in a yogurt-based marinade before cooking, and ‘the spicy one’ is a fiery paneer cooked in a home-made Punjabi sauce of onion, garlic, tomato and more spices. The Paneer itself is different – when we make it we add fresh green chillies, fresh ginger, cracked black pepper and ground cumin, so when you bite through the cook-in sauce those flavours just keep coming! The spicy one was actually easier to perfect because it’s basically all the good stuff that goes into proper home-cooked Punjabi cuisine, so it came very naturally.
“For the traditional one, we used marinade recipes from my mum and my auntie, who are both fantastic cooks, and although it took a lot more refining, we cracked it in the end. I wanted something for every palate – the traditional one is for people who don’t like hot food but like the flavours. The spicy one gives you heat – warm and tangy, but not intrusive. We also do paneer spring rolls, dairy-free vegetable samosas, and our wraps can be gluten-free”.
Thanks to the deliciousness of its food, Paneer Wrap has won the right to join the roster at Digbeth Dining Club. “They’re brilliant to work with” says Dev “and they do fantastic food from a wide, diverse range of vendors – but I will never stop doing food in Coventry. It’s my home and I’d love to see it get bigger and better”.
And the future? Dev has ambitious plans. “I’ll be investing in equipment” he says. “I’m going to pre-package the paneer in the marinade and cook-in sauce and put it in an Uncle Ben’s-style pouch. People will be able to take it home and cook it themselves, put it in a curry or make their own wrap. Hopefully one day it’ll end up on super market shelves!”.
This article was written by Food Covolution, you can find more articles like this on their website by clicking this link.