"there is not a single eatery or restaurant which serves Indian meals."
A retiree from Bengaluru opened the first Indian restaurant in Uzbekistan’s second-largest city, Samarkand.
After retiring, Mohammed Naushad had plans to travel the world.
In 2022, he toured Samarkand but his quest for chai and paratha resulted in him staying and opening an Indian restaurant.
Called The Indian Kitchen, the restaurant is popular among Indian students who miss their native food.
The 61-year-old said: “I had no plans to work post-retirement and had no experience of working at a restaurant let alone running one.
“When I came here as a tourist, I headed out to have my usual breakfast of masala tea and paratha.
“I have travelled to so many countries and have always found some or the other place where Indian food is available.
“I was surprised to find out that there is not a single eatery or restaurant which serves Indian meals.
“A week more and the vibrant culture and simplicity of people here prompted me to give it a shot and now Samarkand is my permanent home.”
Mohammed says his restaurant has up to 400 customers per day.
The restaurant also does catering orders for events where having Indian food as an option is popular in Uzbekistan.
Mohammed begins the day by going to the market with his staff to buy fresh ingredients.
He continued: “There are over 3,000 Indian students in Samarkand and they tell me often that they used to miss Indian meals.
“The shahi paneer and naan and the rotis used to be a rare sight here. I expected the Indians to love the restaurant but the response I have received from Uzbeks is phenomenal.”
Responsible for making the food is Ashok Kalidasa.
Originally from Chennai, the chef used to live in Uzbekistan’s Tashkent but has now settled in Samarkand.
Ashok said: “We enquire from each customer about the kind of spices they like us to use, whether they want it less spicy or tangy because Uzbek food is very different.
“The effort to customise the popular Indian dishes to their taste is what attracts the local crowd here.
“Indian students come here because they get their home food and the meals are not expensive.”
Some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes include Masala Dosa and Chicken Biryani.
The Indian Kitchen currently serves meals at the restaurant but Mohammed has plans to expand.
He explained: “We are also thinking of starting a tiffin service for Indian students.
“Also, we get a lot of tourists. So I am contemplating opening similar setups in Bukhara and Khiva which are popular tourist destinations in Uzbekistan but do not have any Indian restaurants.”
According to the Uzbekistan Embassy in New Delhi, more than 5,000 Indians are living in the country.
In 2019, over 28,000 Indian citizens visited Uzbekistan.
In 2023, the figure has crossed over 30,000.