The spice is right

Hugo Dale-Harris discovers one of Walthamstow Market’s most popular haunts

Seth's Spice Hut

Seth’s Spice Hut in Walthamstow High Street

Since moving to the area recently I’ve been a regular visitor to Walthamstow Market, listening to shouts of “pound a bowl” from the vegetable stalls mingling with pop music blasting out from clothing stands.

The street is always packed, but there is one spot where the crowd gets even thicker. The queue around Seth’s Spice Hut – a tiny white van – always has at least eight people in it while three men work frantically, elbow to elbow inside, piling out food to feed the stream of customers.

I couldn’t restrain my curiosity about this place, so joined the back of the queue. Ahead of me, an elderly Pakistani man chatted to “Mr Seth” in Urdu, as he loaded up his bag with a weekend’s supply of lamb rolls and samosas. Meanwhile someone in the queue told me he’d been eating here for years.

When I asked the owner of the stall, Ismail Seth, if I could talk to him for the newspaper (and for a lamb kebab roll), he gestured to the long line behind me. “Eat your roll, then you can speak to my son.”

Ismail turned and yanked the beard of the younger man behind him, operating the grill. “The reporter wants to talk to you – to make us famous.”

Zubari Seth came out quickly and took a huge bag of meat out of the freezer box next to the hut. When I asked how much they got through in a day, he shrugged: “Impossible to say. Enough, as you can see, to keep us going.

“Anyway”, he grinned, “that would be telling”.

Zubari reckons they serve up to 200 customers a day. No surprise then that they have their own industrial unit and three days off a week for the family to prepare food – everything they serve is homemade.

Ishmail started the business 24 years ago, when Zubari was just 13. The father taught himself to cook, experimenting in their home kitchen, while his son operates the grill.

“If you ever need a hand with a barbecue at home, give me a shout,” Zubari offers.

The Seths came to Walthamstow Market 20 years ago. It wasn’t always as popular as it is now. “There were a lot of people older than us who were trading before us, it was like [we were] the new kids on the block. Now we’re one of the oldest ones here.”

Today, even as street food soars in popularity all over London, the Seths say they have no plans to leave Walthamstow Market.

“It’s vibrant, it’s diverse. There’s excellent community spirit and we’ve got our customer base here, we’re here to stay.”

Seth’s Spice Hut has become essential to the market scene, with people seeking them out not just from London but Birmingham, St Albans and even abroad.

“Once they’ve been to visit they have to come back.”

Zubari reacts with shock when I admit this is my first time as a customer, rubbishing my excuse that my vegetarian girlfriend wouldn’t want a kebab.

“We’ve got vegetable samosas! You should be ashamed of yourself!”