A 20-year journey shines an Indian spotlight in Saigon

More than 20 years ago, Subhash followed his brother to settle down in Saigon, bringing some Indian flavors along.

A qualified engineer, Subhash was initiated into his elder brother's pharmaceutical business in Vietnam. In 1996, they opened their first restaurant in Hanoi and followed it up a year later with a branch in Saigon.

Despite several challenges and difficulties in starting a business at that time, they saw an opportunity to serve authentic Indian food in Vietnam, just as the country was opening up to the world and attracting a lot of international interest, hosting an increasing expat population and welcoming a lot of foreign visitors.

The stress was on quality and authenticity from the very beginning, Subhash said, sitting in Tandoor, the restaurant he opened in Saigon.

Classy, traditional

All the interior decorations, like this Shiva Linga on which water drops constantly, were brought from India. Photo by Trung Lam

The restaurant that Subhash and his Vietnamese wife Thao run has a striking, but sophisticated interior that seamlessly combines the modern with the traditional. Most of the artifacts on display, from the Shiva Linga at the entrance, the statues of various deities on the wall to the ceiling lights, were all brought from India.

Apart from an authentic Indian ambience, Tandoor is committed to offering diners the most authentic food experience, so all the main spices, lentils and other key ingredients are imported.

Instead of localizing the food, they keep it authentic, but "try to bring in the dishes we find most palatable to the locals... and we try to emphasize these dishes, which we, over the year, have realized it would be easy for them to start with,” Subhash said.

Indian BBQ and the lassi

The restaurant’s name, Tandoor, is taken from a traditional, coal-fired clay oven in which various marinated meats are grilled on skewers, and various breads roasted on its sides.

The oven is used in southern, central and western Asian countries, including India. True to its name, the restaurant’s focus is on its BBQ dishes, like Chicken Tandoori and Fish Kebabs, which are also most compatible with Vietnamese customer palettes, Subhash said.

It is good to wash these and other dishes down with a very Indian drink, lassi, Subhash said.

A lassi is basically a yoghurt based smoothie with different fruits and flavors.

“(It) is a very Indian drink...Has a soothing effect and (is) good for digestion... especially when you eat spicy food,” Subhash said.

Story by Trung Lam, Linh Nguyen

Video and photos by Trung Lam

By Linh Nguyen, Trung Lam