Rwanda's Love Affair With the Indian Cuisine

Photo: New Times
President Paul Kagame and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India shortly after the latter’s arrival at Kigali International Airport.

The spicy, intensely colourful world of Indian food found an ever-increasing fan base in Rwanda. In many parts of the city, perhaps, you will find an Indian restaurant or a restaurant that offers Indian cuisine.

There is that influence Indian cuisine has when it comes to the culture, food in particular.

Khana Khazana Restaurant in Kigali is one place that has stood the test of time in this regard.

The first outlet, located in Kiyovu, opened its doors in Kigali on April 25, 2009 with a sitting capacity of 120 people, at an open-air diner, surrounded by a scenic garden, specialising in authentic Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine.

Two years ago, its villa and boutique hotel, located in the heart of the upmarket Nyarutarama area, was also opened. It is here that avid and regular customers of this place remain awed at the consistency of the quality of the food year in and year out; a rare feat to manage and achieve.

The proprietor, Raviraja Poojary, takes us back to how and why he established the restaurant, with an investment of half a billion of Rwanda Francs.

"My friend, whom often met in Dubai, used to tell me how Rwanda is good country, how Rwandan people respect foreigners, and how Kigali is growing economically, and is a very clean city. He would often talk about the Rwandan Culture, the good weather and hills, and kept insisting on visiting Rwanda to look for business opportunity and so on.

In 2009, he met two Indian chefs who were looking for a job in Rwanda, and by then he was running an African restaurant in town, he employed the chefs at his place as cooks and he began offering Indian food at his buffet.

Later on he decided to open an Indian Restaurant in Kigali, because at that time there wasn't any authentic Indian restaurant around.

He therefore sent me an email requesting that I visit Kigali during that week, upon which we noticed that Kiyovu area would be a perfect location to open an Indian Restaurant, this is how we built Khana Khazana Restaurant in Kigali," he says.

He further narrates that the beginning of operating the restaurant was a herculean task, nevertheless paid off.

"It was so difficult finding the skilled staff, getting ingredient, introducing Indian food to Rwandan customers. Very few people knew about Indian food, thus we slowly managed to train the people and people enjoyed their meal, because we cook according to the customers taste, and that is how Khana Khazana became the best restaurant in Kigali, as seen from the comments on trip advisor."

As Nyarutarama area rapidly grew, Poojary reveals that most customers requested that they open restaurant in the area and that is what inspired the new branch. The branch was opened on October 8, 2016, with 150 people sitting capacity and 7 rooms' boutique hotel.

Khana Khazana, hindi for 'Food treasure', is that kind of Indian restaurant where one is assured of getting it right in terms of heat as in the chillies without sacrificing taste and authenticity, yet unlike unexpectedly, 70% of customers comprise of high and middle class Rwandans , with 30% being expatriates.

Poojary explains why: "Universally, Indian food is one of the best food. We use fresh and natural ingredients, spices, as well as cook in the traditional style.

"People believe that Indian food is good for health and Indian food can't easily be prepared at home if you are not in India because It requires so many condiments and way of preparations, like Subzi taka tin, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken tikka masala , Gosht Kholapuri, Biryani, gulab Jamun, Kulfi-E-Malai, Specially Indian Nan Bread And we cook traditional way using clay Oven (called" tandoori")."

Most preferred dishes by the locals include, Subzi Taka Tin, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Lollypop, Chicken Tikka Masala, Mutton Rogonjosh, Butter Chicken, Egg fried Rice, Cheese nan and Butter nan.

It is the variety, the combinations and the myriad uses of spices that the chefs at Khana Khazana have come to master over the years and day in and day out they are able to produce the most astonishing and fabulous Indian cuisine found in this country.

Khana Khazana, boasts of 62 local staff working in both branches of Kiyovu and Nyarutarama. Fluent in English and French, they appear friendly, honest, and tidy.

"It was very difficult, in the beginning, to understand all the Indian food. We give them physical training during the provisional period, and once we notice that the person can take an order, we then give them dining area to take orders, "Poojary says.

Future plans

"Khana Khazana will continue to serve the best quality Indian cuisine to its clients and we plan to grow by expanding to other locations as we move closer to our customers. With the growth that we have experienced thus far and the rate at which the clientele base has continued to expand, the future is very bright for both the Indian cuisine and Khana Khazana," Poojary concludes.

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