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COVER STORY


and weekends, they’re also packed out at lunchtimes. Curry Life spoke to several business entrepreneurs, journalists and foodies in Stockholm to find out how Sweden’s newfound love of Indian food came about. Any assessment of the curry scene in Sweden has to start with the vision of its first Indian restaurant pioneer, Azmal Hussain. Brick Lane businessman Azmal, came to Sweden in 1976 when there were only 251 Bangladeshi people in the whole country. As a chef, he trained in Swedish cooking but had difficulty getting a job so opened his own Indian restaurant, the Bombay Kebab, in 1986. This was the first curry restaurant in Stockholm and it was an instant hit. “The first week, we got a good review by two Swedish newspapers,” Azmal explained. “From then on it so busy I had no time to wash up – at one time I had to buy 300 plates because I could only clean them when the restaurant was shut.” From then on Azmal had several restaurants, even hosting a radio cookery programme which made curry popular


Azmal opened Stockholm’s first Indian restaurant, the Bombay Kebab, in 1986. Now he has restaurants in Brick Lane.


throughout Sweden. In 1999 he moved to the UK where he opened up his famous venue in Brick Lane, Preem & Prithi. Azmal undoubtedly set the trend for Indian restaurants in Sweden’s capital. He was the first to popularise Indian food but he was also successful in capturing a market of young people who made curry fashionable. He also paved the way for a wave of new business entrepreneurs - all Bangladeshis - whose success led them to open more Indian food outlets as solo or co-owned ventures, including several popular restaurant chains. The biggest of these is Indian Garden, a group of six supercool venues overseen by head chef Karim Rezaul. Karim, who moved to Sweden from Bangladesh in the early 1990s, went on to open successful restaurants in Stockholm, famous for their authentic food and exotic ambiance. Another talented entrepreneur, Chef Nahid Hassan, owns five outlets in the Shanti chain of restaurants. Three of his venues specialise in Bangladeshi cuisine (see our interview with Chef Nahid in this issue). Nahid, who is in partnership with his brother, Naim, talked to Curry Life about the success of their chain. “If you have good food, good customer service you can’t go wrong,” he said. He also stressed the importance of having a professional team. “It’s vital to look after your staff regarding issues of welfare and pay,” he explained. “Being able to retain good staff is vitally impor tant for your restaurant and customers.” Hassan Patwary is the owner of the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in Stockholm called Indira. Located on Bond Street, it was the second to open after Bombay Kebab in 1990. “When it started people didn’t know what curry was,” Mr Patwany told Curry Life. He recounts the story of one customer who had never encountered spicy food before and almost suffered an apoplectic fit on tasting his meal. “He was so angry - he never believed food could be so hot!”


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Hassan Patwary is the owner of the oldest surviving Indian restaurant, INDIRA.


Hassan Patwary experienced more basic difficulties when he opened his restaurant. “The tandoori oven had to be imported from England as it was unheard of in Sweden,” he explained. “It was a very strange thing for the authorities to deal with and they thought it wasn’t safe.” Hassan had to go to extraordinary lengths to get his oven shipped over, obtaining a safety certificate from the manufacturer in the UK. He also had problems finding a local supplier of spices and rice. Eventually he came across a Turkish grocer who was willing to import them from the UK. He opened a second restaurant in 1995 which, sadly, had to close down. In hindsight Hassan feels that as a more modern restaurant, it was probably ahead of its time. “Now times have changed; curry is so popular that not only do small towns have an Indian restaurant, even the most northern and more remote towns near the border of Finland have one too,” he said. Indira however continues to flourish, popular with diners and regulars who have been visiting since the restaurant’s inception 26 years


As a self-confessed curry lover, the author and journalist Stephan Mendelenk is knowledgeable about ethnic restaurants in Sweden.


ago. As a self-confessed curry lover, the author and journalist Stephan Mendelenk is knowledgeable about ethnic restaurants in Sweden. The first Indian diner to open was in the city of Gothenburg in 1972, he told Curry Life. Unfortunately, it had to close down but in the 1980s there were about five Indian restaurants in the whole of Sweden; one in the university town of Lund, one in Uppsala and possibly two in Stockholm, nowadays that number is closer to 100. Stephan is a lover of traditional Bengali food. True to the Swedish stereotype he loves fish so he particularly enjoys eating Bengali-style fish curry, albeit made with salmon. He is therefore very happy to see that some Bangladeshi entrepreneurs are starting to serve exclusively Bengali cuisine. He commented: “The strange thing about curry restaurants in Sweden is behind the Indian names for restaurants like Indira, Indian Garden, Gandhi and Indian Sitar, hide the owners, cooks and waiters who are usually from Bangladesh. “Several different explanations for the dominance abound.


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