Monday, June 15, 2009

Chaats, curries spice up Indian's business in Macau

She was a single mother and came here over 25 years ago with a mission to teach kathak to Indian classical dance enthusiasts. But Aruna Jha ended up owning a restaurant chain and has been popularising chaats and spicy Indian curries in this small Chinese town ever since.

"I came in 1983 to Macau to teach kathak. The Macau cultural institute had invited me to come and teach dance. When I started teaching dance, I was the first Indian whose name was coming up in local newspapers and TV and everywhere here. That is when it all began," Jha told IANS here.

"One of the general managers in Hyatt hotel here asked me why don't I promote some Indian preparations like jal jeera and chaat. I said, why not the food? Then I went and prepared some Indian curry and they asked me to join them and I agreed. That's how my career in the food line began here in Macau," said the 49-year-old.

After spending 15 years at Hyatt, in 1999, Jha went on to open her first independent restaurant - Aruna Curry - with a 35-seating capacity in Macau - a Special Administrative Region of China like Hong Kong - and later in 2006, she opened her second outlet in Taipa.

And then, thanks to her flourishing business, she also opened her third and biggest restaurant - Aruna Maharaja - recently in partnership with two Indian rice exporters from India.

But opening a restaurant chain wasn't a cakewalk for Jha, who is from Dehradun, capital of India's Uttarakhand state, as she needed to recruit Indian cooks to keep the business going, and the Macau government didn't give her permission to do so.

"It's very difficult to recruit Indian cooks here because the government is not giving us the quota. They say that I should take the local cooks and not bring them down from overseas. At times I go to the kitchen myself and prepare food and serve my guests. I'm still fighting with the government," she said.

To add to Jha's dilemma, most chefs whom she trains in cooking her style of Indian food leave her in search of jobs in five-star hotels.

Despite all the hurdles, Jha opened Aruna Maharaja with an investment of 2.7 million HKD at the Venetian-Macau Resort last month to cash in on the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) weekend and awards that concluded here Saturday.

"IIFA was coming here so I wanted to promote my chain for Indians. Crowds have been coming in here, thanks to IIFA. I wanted to give full support to the event because it is doing good promotion for Macau.

"I remember when I came here, there were no Indians. But today I see so many people here. It looks like I am in my India," she said in a nostalgic tone.

The specialty of her restaurant, she said, is "the taste of home-cooked food".

"My specialty is to give home-cooked food. I have my own recipes which are just like home food and make visitors feel at ease and in a home like environment away from home," she said.

And over the years, she has developed a clientele of American, British, Australian and Chinese tourists as well, apart from the Indians.

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