Punjabi mom’s dishes drive family’s fortunes

Charlotte Massey
The Detroit News
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Second in a series on the many ethnic food businesses on Dequindre between 11 Mile and 17 Mile.

Kulwinder Kaur, left, works with her mother, Narinder Kaur, who created Phulkari Punjabi Kitchen in Madison Heights.

“Our family business — it’s my mom. She’s the boss of everything. She started it. It’s all her,” said Kulwinder Kaur, general manager of Phulkari Punjabi Kitchen.

The family arrived in the Detroit area in 1986 after Kulwinder’s father, a minister in the Sikh religion, was brought over to a new temple. They opened Indo Pak grocery store and video rental in their current location north of 11 Mile in 1992.

“But then slowly video rentals went out, and my mom started making the samosas at home. And they would sell at the video rental place and people loved them,” she said.

Samosas are light, fluffy, fried, stuffed dumplings served all over India, and like most Indian cuisine, the tastes and filling vary by region. In the Punjab, typically they are stuffed with potatoes and peas.

At Phulkari Punjabi Kitchen, matriarch Narinder Kaur uses red chili, fresh cilantro and garam masala, a mixture of eight or nine different spices, including cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper and bay leaf, all roasted and ground together. Together with the peas and potatoes and fried dough they give her samosas a distinctive, delicate flavor.

She worked two jobs in the early years.

Maki Roti & Saag is Punjabi corn bread served with cooked mustard greens at Phulkari Punjabi Kitchen in Madison Heights.

“She would go at night to the factory, work there 10-12 hours, come home, rest a little bit, and then come to the video store, also the grocery store, and do a little bit of help there, and then go back to work,” her daughter said. Since childhood she has helped her parents at the store. “I remember, we were little kids, my brother — we were sitting there packing little pouches of lentils and masalas. It’s fond memories.”

The restaurant opened as Indo-Pak in 1995 and became Phulkari Punjabi in 2012. Though her husband runs the tandoor grill and her sisters and brother help out at the restaurant, Kulwinder Kaur makes sure her mom gets the credit.

“Right now, she’s still here, and we tell her it’s time for you to retire, and she’s like ‘I’m never retiring. What am I going to do (at) home?’ So she’s our backbone. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think we’d be here.”

On Dequindre, adventures in ethnic food

Coming next in the series atdetroitnews.com/special-reports/ :

Tuesday: American Polish Cultural Center

Wednesday: Mid-East Pastry Delight

Thursday: Chung Ki Wa restaurant

Friday: Pho Tai restaurant

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