A taste of home...
Chatting up Sonia Kaur, owner of Sitara restaurant, that serves Indian food in Indonesia
When you are away from home, however brief your stay is, you end up feeling peckish for familiar food. In our case, we were vegetarians travelling in Indonesia and needless to say, wanted to dig into some roti, dal and chawal after about six days of being away from India.
So on our last evening in Indonesia, we were taken to Sitara, an Indian restaurant in Bali. We met the vivacious Sonia Kaur, the owner of the restaurant. A third generation Indian living in Indonesia, Kaur and her mother set up the restaurant, which operates from Surabaya, Bali and Ubud. The restaurant serves vegetarian and non-vegetarian North Indian and South Indian cuisine as also, food for the Jain community! “Indians travelling in Indonesia make it a point to dine here at least once during their stay. Indian cuisine is also picking up amongst the locals,” she says.
Kaur shares details about living in Indonesia and running a restaurant chain. Excerpts...
Can you tell us a little about your family history? How did you establish the chain of Sitara restaurants with your mum?
I am a third generation Indian, born and brought up in Indonesia. Originally from Punjab, my parents started a sports shop in Surabaya. Later, my mom wanted to expand the business and also wanted to introduce Indian culture. The best way to do that was through food. That’s why she and my dad decided to open an Indian restaurant called ‘Sitara’.
India has a had a long history of women stepping out to work, starting small businesses etc. Is it true for Indonesia as well? What are the challenges involved for women wanting to earn on their own?
Yes, earlier we had some difficulties when we wanted to work or establish a business. But things are changing now, especially in big cities, where women are being welcomed to join the workforce. This work culture is yet to percolate in the rural area though.
Can you tell us about Sitara? What all does it serve? How is the rapport with visiting Indian tourists and locals?
Sitara is a chain of Indian restaurants which is ISO 9000 certified. We are 15 years old now and our determination and passion hasn’t dimmed. We serve authentic, mouth-watering Indian food from North to South — vegetarian, Jain, vegan and of course non-vegetarian. We have also introduced Mumbai Chowpatty food and have a good variety of sweet dishes! Also, we don’t use MSG in our cooking.
We have catered to many international events, destination weddings, spiritual events like Shivyog or Art of Living and serve visiting Indian ministry officials, and dignitaries of the Indonesian government. Presently, Sitara has three outlets in Surabaya with a capacity of 500 people. In Bali-Denpasar, the seating capacity is 170 and Ubud has 120.
Do you like cooking?
Yes, very much. Especially making dessert.
How about offering vegetarian Indonesian food in Indonesia? Do you think it will find takers? During our trip, we realised that we grow same vegetables; there isn’t much difference in the way our grains, veggies and fruits taste. And, yet we were told that Indonesians don’t know how to cook without meat or beef flakes etc.
Haha.. yeah you got it right. In Indonesia, almost all are meat eaters. They are not familiar with the idea of vegetarian food. If they are told that you won’t eat chicken...they will assume that chicken will not work, but chicken sausage might!
Don’t be surprised if they ask you that! But in Bali, you still can have good choice of vegetarian and vegan food. Especially at Sitara. Ahem! Ahem!
At the Bali restaurant, we saw a small temple housing Indian deities with Balinese gods. How is it like to be a person of Indian origin living in Indonesia?
Bali has maximum Hindu population. They are very spiritual people and stick to their roots. But there are differences between the Indian Hindus and Balinese Hindus. If you respect their way of living and worshipping, they will respect us and reciprocate the gesture. I am happy because I can represent India in Indonesia.