ASTANA – Astana does not have many restaurants specialising in Indian cuisine, but India Gate on the Right Bank of the Yessil River is a good place to start.
IndiaGate has a very rich menu that focuses on Indian cuisine but also includes some Thai and Chinese dishes. The restaurant is always customer friendly and provides a high quality dishes. It provides an ideal venue for romantic dinners, corporate lunches, birthday celebrations, anniversaries and wedding receptions.
The décor is atmospheric. Dark lighting maintains the exotic atmosphere with paintings displaying Hindu teachings and traditional art on display. The restaurant attracts diplomats from Pakistan, Malaysia, Canada, the United States and Britain. Half its guests are foreigners, 20 percent from Kazakhstan and 20 percent visitors from the Middle East and 10 percent from India.
The Astana Times interviewed chief chef and owner Nandha Kumar.
How did you come to open this restaurant?
It was originally called the Tandoori, but its previous management had some problems and that’s when I took over and renamed the place.
What are your specialties and where do your chefs come from?
I have three cooks from India for each of our three specialized cuisines. We serve Indian, Thai and Chinese cuisines. I have one cook for our Indian dishes, one cook for our traditional Indian bread, the naan kulcha. It is a stuffed flatbread baked in a very hot tandoori oven, and one cook for Thai and Chinese dishes. Our Indian chef comes from the region of Gadwal in Andhra Pradesh state in southeast India. He has been working for a decade in the business. Our bread chef comes from Nepal. Our Thai and Chinese cuisine chef was originally from Nepal too, but for 20 years he lived in Delhi.
Do all your ingredients come from India?
Yes, I travel to India every six months especially to buy cooking spices and other ingredients because here in Kazakhstan we only buy the basic vegetables and meat. As you know Indian ingredients are unique.
What does restaurant cooking mean to you?Cooking is an art. Just working for a living will not give you real satisfaction. I have many customers from all walks of life. Everyone in Astana knows my restaurant and they know I love my work. I love to prepare their meals. My chefs share my philosophy of life. They love to cook. It is the meaning of their lives.
Indian cuisine is famous all around the world. What is the demand for it here in Astana?
Astana is a young and rapidly growing city with a strong international flavour. There was no real tradition of Indian cuisine here before we opened, but the popularity of it is growing rapidly. Our clientele is growing and our profits are rising.
We find advertising is important but it is very expensive in Astana. When I took over, at first business was poor. We did not have many customers. Now we are doing good business and we are much more popular. We plan to open a new, high profile branch in the food court of the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre. I believe that the hosting of EXPO 2017 in Astana will be a golden opportunity for us. I will have far more guests and will have the opportunity to expand the business.
What is the most popular dish you serve?
Our chicken tikka and chicken pokora are very famous. Our main dish is chicken masala which is popular. Our guests like vegetable jalfrezi, a mildly spiced curry and sizzling vegetable recipe in a mildly spiced gravy. For vegetarians we offer vegetable pulao, dal makhni, mixed vegetable curry.
Dal makhni is a rich lentil sauce. Rice comes with every major dish. Our briahni, or spiced rice, is similar to the Kazakh beshparmak. It can be cooked with vegetables.
What dishes do foreign guests prefer?
For our foreign visitors, the most popular dishes are lamb vindaloo and lamb rogan josh.
Do you like the Kazakh national dish beshbarmak (boiled meat mixed with boiled noodles and onion sauce)?
(laughing) Yes, I do. I do not like beef, but I like konina (horsemeat in Russian). Sometimes my friends and guests bring it to me.