Desi cusine strikes it big in Europe

  • Aneesha Bedi, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jul 06, 2015 14:24 IST

From pani puri in Manhattan to kathi rolls in Budapest and ‘makai pattice’ in Muscat to Obama’s 52ndbirthday date at an Indian eatery, the appetite for Indian food is growing with leaps and bounds around the world with many passionate Indian restaurateurs headed abroad. Indian cuisine continues to grow in popularity around the world. Good opportunities now exist for Indian entrepreneurs and established Indian restaurant chains to become more influential than ever before in foreign land. So, how could Europe be far behind? With chicken tikka masala an integral part of the British culture, the increasing fondness for North Indian food made two Punjabis enter the food industry in parts of West Europe thanks to the demand-supply ratio here. Read on to know the stories of two such entrepreneurs from the region who chose Europe over India to take their passion for food to the next level.

Nam Nam
Where: Vienna, Austria
Who: Jitender Kumar Sharma, 36
Home town: Phagwara

Located in the heart of the Austrian capital, Nam Nam, a bright contemporary Indian restaurant with quirky murals serves classic fare with a modern twist. The restaurant was opened by Phagwara-born Jitender Kumar Sharma in 2010. With an innate passion for cooking, Sharma shares that he always enjoyed seeing his mother cooking up yummy delights in the kitchen. Having worked at different eateries in Austria for about six years, he decided to open his own chain. “I was quite amazed with the response to Indian food. While one has to modify some of the dishes to suit their taste, Europeans inherently love the Indian bread (roti). So I thought why not make use of the experience I had in this field?” said 36-year-old Sharma, adding that he was overwhelmed by the response his restaurant. “So much so, that five years down the line, I have opened a dhaba, a home-delivery shop, two outlets in Vienna itself,” he added.Content with his business output and the level of professionalism, Sharma plans to expand his career here and has no plans of coming back to India.“Hum apne desh ka naam roshan hi kar rahe hain, toh kya hua Hindustan mein rehkar karein ya Europe mein rehkar (We have been successful in carving a niche here for India, so how does it matter whether I’m in Europe or in my own country?)?” he smiled.

Clientele: 70% Europeans and 30% Asian
Popular dishes: Chicken kadhai and naan
USP: Besides the warm and hospitable staff, the garden restaurant and the colourful modern look gives Sharma’s outlets an edge. The much-talked about map of Chandigarh on one of the walls, that Sharma got designed himself, always catches the attention of customers.

Hana's Rasoi
Where: Salzburg, Austria
Who: Ahluwalia Harminder Singh, 37
Home town: Amritsar

What was an experiment is now one of Salzburg’s leading Indian restaurants. The death of Amritsar-born Ahluwalia Harminder Singh’s father made him realise his responsibility to support his family. With a degree in hotel management from Austria, adverse family circumstances combined with his love for food led to the opening of Hana’s Rasoi in 2004. Having never worked in India, Ahluwalia took to ‘the systematic and organised way of things in Europe’ rather well. “With some help from my father’s savings and my own part-time job during college, I managed to deal with the initial financial challenges,” said the owner of the restaurant where the who’s who of Bollywood like to stop by whenever in Salzburg. But was he always sure that the idea would work? “While some like to call it a risk, I was sure of what I was doing since having done my graduation here, I had become well aware of the fact that Europeans loved Indian food, especially North Indian. It’s rare to to find a European customer who does not order a butter chicken or chicken tikka masala for that matter,” said the 37-year-old, who lives with his wife and eight-year-old daughter in Mozart’s birthplace.

Clientele: 85% Europeans and many Indians visit during the holiday season
Popular dishes: Butter chicken and chicken tikka masala
USP: The restaurant’s cozy bistro feel and the location

The Inevitable Curry Crisis

When foreigners talk about Indian cuisine, the first thing that comes to their mind is the ‘curry’, so much so that curry houses have taken over the food map of Europe. Apart from Indian entrepreneurs, the majority of Indian restaurants abroad are actually owned by Bangladeshis, often from the Sylhet region. What is most intriguing is that these immigrant Bangladeshis who run such curry houses choose not to put their own cuisine on the menu, relying on made-up variants of classic Indian dishes. Indian cuisine is more popular thanks to them. London’s Brick Lane is testimony to that. Moreover, cuisine continues to be among the many cultural similarities between India and Bangladesh. One such restaurant, Curry House, is run by a Bangladeshi in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
A success story to the core, restaurant manager Sabby Parua says, “I might be a Bangladeshi, but I am as much an Indian at heart and love Indian food.” An expert in the food industry, the 45-year-old settled in Budapest in 1995 and could give us a first hand account on how the Hungarian population has grown to love Indian cuisine over the years. With a team of ten, Parua knows his business well. “Curry House isn’t as wallet-friendly as most of the other places on this list, but believe me, the dishes are worth paying a bit more for. All the ingredients are carefully selected, and authentic, and the kitchen uses special cooking techniques that guarantee a tasty meal,” says Parua.

Popular dishes: Butter chicken and gulab jamun
Clientele: 70 % foreigners around the year. Indian tourists increase between May and August.
USP:The idea behind Curry House comes from the owner’s one and half years of personal research on South Asia. The richly-decorated interiors, complete with ‘phulkari’ cushion covers and Lord Ganesha’s idol, are a hit among the Europeans.

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