Food

The Mama of Asian cuisine

Mamagoto's ambience is laid-back and fun. Rahul Khanna (third from right) at the Chennai restaurant. Photo: R. Ravindran  

The cow has a date. He’s in a blazer with a rose in hand. A Chinese lady holds up a soup bowl with perfectly-manicured fingers. There’s a tiger on the prowl. At Mamagoto, that formally opens its doors to Chennai today, Manga-inspired paintings, kitschy cushions, khaki seats and myriad quirky elements add to the vibrant interiors of the restaurant… or should we say pan-Asian café.

That’s the concept founders Rahul Khanna and Kabir Suri introduced to the country when the first Mamagoto popped up in Delhi’s upscale Khan Market, in 2010. “Till such time, the thought of going out and having a bowl of noodles at 4.30 in the evening was unheard of,” says Khanna. The idea of a pan-Asian place stemmed from their love for the cuisine. “Also, back then, if you wanted Chinese, there were either expensive restaurants, or those serving staples from the 1980s like hakka noodles and chilli chicken. There wasn’t a space where you could walk in casually through the day and grab a quick Asian meal. So we came up with the pan-Asian café concept,” he adds.

The menu lists street food favourites from China, Japan, Korea and South East Asian countries such as Burma, Indonesia and Malaysia. “We noticed a lot of people travelling. The first destination most travel to is S.E. Asia, and these countries have a massive street food culture, much like India. That’s how we incorporated the best bits from street hawkers and served it to the clientele in India in a café format,” says 33-year-old Khanna. And what does Mamagoto mean? It’s Japanese for playing with food. The chefs and their teams play with diverse flavours and ingredients to create new dishes or recreate popular ones. “The menu gets eight new dishes every quarter, and we also remove eight dishes that aren’t doing particularly well,” smiles Suri.

The 1,600 sq.ft. café, on Khader Nawaz Khan Road, is their ninth in the country, with the tenth coming up in Hyderabad next week, followed by one in Noida and Connaught Place and one in Pune by the end of this year. As of now, Mamagoto is present in Delhi (3), Gurgaon (1), Mumbai (3), Bangalore (1) and Chennai (1). “When we conceptualised it in 2009, we wanted it to be a chain,” says the 34-year-old Suri. They consciously keep away from 100-seater restaurants to maintain a laid-back, fun factor. The one here is the smallest of the lot and seats 50. But it’s the first of the Mamagotos to have a Teppanyaki grill.

In 2010, the duo set up their company, Azure Hospitality. Prior to that, Khanna studied in Switzerland and worked in the hospitality, food and beverage, and architecture sector in London, Hong Kong and Dubai, while Suri, a banker, oversaw his family restaurants in New York and London. The two came back to India in 2008. It helped that they were childhood friends. “But we didn’t see much of each other as kids because Suri was in boarding school. So that way, we didn’t have too many fights. Even now, our social circles are completely different. If we had to see each other post work, we would probably kill each other,” laughs Khanna.

When they did think of starting a joint venture, there was apprehension at first. “We didn’t want financial dealings to sour our relationship. Our plan was clear: work for 10 years, build a brand and not be greedy and opt for quick fixes,” he says. In July, this year, they received a 10-million-dollar funding from Goldman Sachs. Their aim now is to set up three to four domestic outlets every year, and “hopefully” an international one too. By the end of 2016, they will be taking their brand to Dubai.

With pan-Asian restaurants rapidly mushrooming across cities, what are the challenges the brand faces? “The only problem is sourcing ingredients,” says Suri and adds, “What works for us is our consistency with food and our creative menu. Ingredients are sourced from all over the country and also outside. Of these, 29 are homemade. Our sauces are made in-house. To make sure that there is no change in taste, we control the sauces from our base kitchen in Delhi,” he says. Black bean jam, chilli mayonnaise, chilli salsa and the ‘Ishaan sauce’ are some of the signature sauces created in-house. Basil chicken cups, snow peas salad, rock shrimp tempura, rice bowls and their version of khow suey known as Chiang Mai Train Station Noodles are hot favourites. People who travel to other cities and have tried out these dishes will vouch for that. “That’s why it’s tougher for us than a stand-alone restaurant, because people have tried our food before and are coming here with a basis of comparison,” they say.


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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 7:45:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/get-your-south-east-asian-fix/article7992034.ece

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