If it’s 10am, the tantalising aromas of hot Vadapavs and Karak Chai do not let you pass by without stopping for a bite. And at sunset, the spicy aromas of steaming hot Pav-bhaji instantly strap you down to a seat for an early dinner…
Located in prominent street corners in some parts of Muscat are a handful of ‘coffee shops’ which churn out tonnes of Indian snacks for people on the move everyday. And they have, indeed, stood the test of time for decades on end.
These shops, currently run by the second and third generations of the original proprietors, are involved in a simple task everyday – feeding the hungry traveller. Over the years, they have been providing popular Indian snacks and beverages all day long and within minutes.
Patronised by Omanis as well as expatriates (not just Indians), these coffee shops are also known for certain signature snacks which have these days become popular internationally because of their affordability as well as easy-to-prepare recipes using humble ingredients.
These family-run eateries, which cannot be called restaurants (since they are not allowed to serve traditional meals) were established decades ago on a small scale. Within humble premises and limited space at their disposal, they nevertheless, serve thousands of patrons everyday and have thrived with meagre profit margins.
Kishore Chandulal Bhanushali, one such proprietor who hails from Mandvi, Gujarat (India), came to Oman in 1992 and worked in a restaurant for a few years. After gaining experience and getting to know the tricks of the trade, he started out on his own – initially with a catering service and later with a coffee shop adjacent to the popular Souq al Jumma in Wadi Kabir.
Bhanusali’s son Udit, who now runs the shop along with a few workers, says, “We wanted people to enjoy authentic Indian snacks in Oman, so we initially started by making ‘Dabeli’, a spicy, tangy snack that originates from the Kutch region of Gujarat, inspired by preparations by my grandfather. We started out by putting up a snack stall during festivals and events, and going to malls to distribute pamphlets urging people to try out our snacks.”
As per customer preferences and demands, many more dishes were added to the menu and today a whole range of Gujarati snacks are prepared on a daily basis, most of which have many a taker. While regulars come in for a bite all day long, some place orders for large quantities of snacks for functions/parties at their homes, he said.
“We have about 60-70 regular customers and about 20 new customers everyday. Our staff are personally trained and taught by my mother, Pushpa Kishore Bhanushali, while my father and I manage the logistics as well as attend to customers at the counter everyday,” Udit said, adding that their stall in Wadi Kabir is extremely popular among people of different nationalities.
Prabhakar Petkar, an accountant by profession with no prior experience in the field but a foodie by heart, is yet another entrepreneur who walked into the hearts of many Indian expatriates in Oman through their stomachs. His popular stall, next to the Oman Oil petrol pump in CBD area is a landmark, not because of its architecture but the exotic snacks that are dished out and served out till midnight everyday.
Hailing from Pune, in Maharashtra (India), Petkar came to Muscat in 1990 and stayed on as his passion for food kept him glued to the capital with patrons ranging in thousands everyday.
“Cooking was a hobby for me, and I used to cook for family and friends everyday until they motivated me to commercialise it in Muscat. Supported by my wife, I set up this cafe in CBD where snacks like ‘Vada-pav’ and ‘Pav Bhaji’ became extremely popular within days of starting out. Today, we prepare several snack from fried to chaat items, all of which are in good demand,” he said.
He further said, “Indians as well as locals appreciate our authentic dishes and I have trained my staff to pay adequate attention to quality and hyfgiene everyday so that there is consistency in the food served out everyday. Petkar also has plans for expanding his business to a proper restaurant and would soon be opening two proper Indian food restaurants in the sultanate. Currently, he manages two coffee shops by the name of Mumbai Corner in Al Khuwayr and CBD area.
Khemraj Joshi, another coffee shop proprietor, who also hails from Gujarat, came to Muscat in 1985 as a cook in a restaurant. Having explored the market and tapped the demand for Indian dishes, he, too, decided to start his own venture soon.
Starting out on a small scale, by first supplying food to known families, Khemraj later started a catering service and started building more contacts for supply food regularly. His coffee shop was initially known for ‘Puri bhaji’ which was prepared as per traditional recipes.
Khemraj’s son Bharat soon joined the business and helped out in procurement of ingredients and supervising the tasks carried out by a few trusted hands who were skilled in preparation as well as service as per Indian traditions.
Khemraj’s ‘Thali’ lunch at this restaurant off Ruwi High Street is popular till date because of its homely taste of dishes as well as low tariff. He also provides a range of Indian sweets and snacks, all of which are very popular.
Miles away from India, these eateries are not just keeping the love for Indian food alive but also providing simple, affordable food for the common man who’s hard on cash as well as time.
(Contributed by Gaurika Joshi)