Chicken curry and dal tadka in Istanbul

May 28, 2010 Ranjana Narayan

Istanbul, May 28 (IANS) Chicken curry, papad, dal tadka, gajar ka halwa....all this and more was churned out at an Indian restaurant in the heart of Istanbul to cater to Abhishek Bachchan and others shooting in Turkey's commercial capital and most important city for a Bollywood film.

Imran M. Rana, the affable owner of Musafir Indian Restaurant, located in Talimhane in Taxim, says he was excited when two Indians, members of the film crew, approached him for the food meant for a 15-member team this month. They were reportedly shooting for the movie, "Dum Maro Dum". But this was not the first time Rana was taking orders for an Indian film crew.

"During the shooting of 'Guru' too, we catered for Abhishek Bachchan and the rest of the crew," Rana told a visiting IANS correspondent, referring to the 2007 film directed by Mani Ratnam. "Some of the scenes of 'Guru' were shot in Istanbul," he said.

When Indian delegations come to Istanbul - a historically exciting city of 12 million people that straddles two continents - to participate in trade fairs or other events, Rana gets busy dishing out the best items.

He has deep-rooted links with India and Pakistan. His father's side came from Jodhpur and his mother is from Lahore, Pakistan.

For Indians keen to get a taste of their food, Musafir has an array of dishes on offer - poppadums (papad), phirni, chana masala, paneer makhani, naan, tadka masoor dal, matar paneer shahi, butter chicken, chicken korma, chicken tikka, and the works.

The colours of the Indian flag form a prominent border around his restaurant façade. The décor is Indian too - table cloths made of patchwork and sequins, Indian folk art decorations inside the restaurant and a wide television screen showing the latest Bollywood hit songs.

"Janaab, boliye aap kya lenge," Rana asks us Indian tourists in perfect Hindi, without a hint of any accent. What makes his diction and pronunciation come as a surprise is that Rana was born and brought up in Manchester, Britain. His grandfather had moved to England in 1939.

Rana, in his early 30s, opened Musafir more than five years ago. He has one Indian cook, one Pakistani cook and four-five helpers. One of them is Gurpreet, who is from Punjab.

Rana's wife Ezgi is Turkish. She helps him out at the restaurant. He has applied for Turkish nationality and is hoping to get it soon.

"I get my spices from India or Dubai, and mix them myself," says Rana, whose family owns a popular restaurant in Manchester, called The Curry Mile.

When he gets bulk orders, or for prominent gatherings, then Rana puts on the chef's apron and gets busy.

"I cook myself too. During my schooling in Manchester, whenever I was home I would help at the restaurant, dicing onions and doing other odd jobs," he says.

While Indians seek out his restaurant, which is among the two in Istanbul, Turkish people have begun experimenting with Indian cuisine.

"Turkish people are generally conservative when it comes to food. But slowly they have started experimenting. They get tired of the kebabs and breads and want different tastes. But they can't stand spicy food. So for them I have to take care not to make it hot and spicy," says Rana.

He arrived in Istanbul to study American literature at Istanbul University, from where he graduated in 2000. While he was teaching American literature and English language at Istanbul University, Rana started the restaurant in 2004.

"It had only eight tables then," he says, adding that now the restaurant's seating capacity is 100 with tables also placed outside.

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Dum Maaro Dum


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