Pakistani man’s kebabs ready, will Indians get a taste?

November 9th, 2010 - 1:33 pm ICT by IANS  

By Rahul Vaishnavi
New Delhi, Nov 9 (IANS) In Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, 47-year-old restaurateur Shahid Bundu Khan has been working the phone for months, desperately trying to get permission to take his famous kebabs and biryanis to a Delhi fair - “for the love” he earns from Indian customers.

The India International Trade Fair (IITF) - beginning Nov 14 this time - attracts a large Pakistani delegation which usually sells its well-known textiles, crafts and food. Bundu Khan had last come here in 2008, when he had done roaring business.

Despite much effort, he could not participate last year, and even this time, he has been shown the red light - so far. The organisers have told him no participants are being allowed to put up food stalls.

“I don’t know what is the issue and why they are not allowing us to participate in the fair. We are in touch with the organisers as well as the Pakistan High Commission but nothing concrete has come out yet,” Bundu Khan told IANS on phone from Karachi.

In 2009, he had to make similar representations to Indian trade officials to request them for permission. “Just a day before the trade fair began, I got a call from them, permitting me to set up a stall. It was impossible for me to get a visa in 24 hours. Hence, I couldn’t participate,” he said.

Bundu Khan represents a family-run chain of restaurants in Pakistan, which was begun by his great-grandfather from a small kiosk in Karachi after partition. Now they have around 15 restaurants in Pakistan and abroad, in cities like Karachi, Lahore, Los Angeles, Muscat and London.

“Ours is a huge family of 110 members and we all live in one house,” he said. “Many in our families are doctors and engineers but every evening all of us get together and cook in our restaurant for our customers.”

Reminiscing about his 2008 India visit, Khan said his “best selling item” was a thali consisting of tikkas, halwas and paranthas, costing around Rs.120. “We used to earn Rs.40,000 ($900) to Rs.50,000 ($1,100) daily,” he said.

He earned so much appreciation that when he did not participate last year, he received calls from India. “I got so many phone calls from India last year when I couldn’t participate - which shows the love for our food in your country,” Khan told IANS.

Khan said while there was a lot of similarity between his fare and Indian cuisine, there were differences in the process of cooking.

“For instance, one thing we make sure is all our spices are ground on a stone grinder and not in an electric one because we believe electricity raises the temperature of the spices which, as a result, lose their flavour,” he said.

Bundu Khan is deeply puzzled over not being allowed to take part in the fair.

“We are meeting all the guidelines of safety, hygiene and everything else but still they are prohibiting us from coming to Delhi. Last time I had deployed five of my men just to gather the used paper plates and napkins and throw them in the dustbin,” he asserted.

The Pakistani restaurateur said he was really touched by the adulation he received previously, which makes him want to return again.

“I don’t come to India to earn money, I come there only for the love that I get from my customers. It is not about money at all. We basically belong to the same land and culture,” he told IANS.

Despite several attempts, India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) officials could not be reached for comment.

(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at rahul.v@ians.in)

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