Walk in to any Indian restaurant anywhere in New Zealand
and the chefs will almost always be from one small region
near the Himalayas. And it is not just in this country. Bruce
Munro uncovers the surprising story of how Garhwali chefs are
conquering the curry-and-naan-loving world.
Kedar Anthwal's mind flicks to a scene more than 12,000km
In a Dunedin commercial kitchen smaller than most New
Zealanders' home kitchens, the 30-year-old Indian chef is
busy preparing half a dozen lunchtime meals.
The roar of gas-fired flames and clackety-clack of metal
ladles on metal pans are infused with smells of barbecuing
meat, bubbling pots of aromatic curries and the sight of
richly coloured and textured spices to form a heady
multisensory feast. But for a moment Kedar is transported to
a small remote village perched high in the mountains of
Uttarakhand state near India's border with Chinese-controlled
Tibet. Atop the smouldering logs of an outside fire sits an
enormous iron karahi (cooking vessel) tended by a village
elder preparing a vegetable curry for a Hindu festival.
Behind him women in bright saris sit preparing bread, their
chatter carried on the wind out across the deep, forested
valley towards distant, towering Himalayan peaks.
Such scenes are being played out in thousands of imaginations
in restaurant kitchens throughout New Zealand every day. The
sights, sounds and smells of Garhwal, of home.
In the past three decades it is estimated more than 3000
chefs and restaurant workers from the Garhwal division of
Uttarakhand in northern India have emigrated to New Zealand,
many of them from a group of villages within a 30km radius.
It is believed Garhwali men now make up 75% to 90% of all
chefs in New Zealand's hundreds of Indian restaurants. And,
increasingly, they are becoming restaurant owners as well.
But the dishes they serve - Indian restaurant staples such as
chicken tikka masala, biryani, tandoori lamb and rogan josh -
are not part of their traditional cuisine nor representative
of the dishes of more than just a portion of that populous
and diverse subcontinent.
And it is not just a New Zealand phenomenon. There are as
many or more Garhwali chefs and restaurant owners in each of
the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany. It is an intriguing
story of British colonial racial stereotyping, a
backward-looking prince, ambitions for a better life, and a
web of family and friendship connections spanning the globe.
Although, in New Zealand at least, it is a trend that appears
to have flown under the official radar.
Kedar's older brother Suryamani Anthwal (44), who owns India
Gate and Indian Spice restaurants in Dunedin, says it is no
surprise so many Garhwali are chefs.
''They have a distinct taste in their hands,'' he says of his
people's reputation in the culinary arts.
''And they have stamina because of their solid build ...
Putting your hand in the tandoor when it is 400 degrees - a
weak person can't do that.''
In the time of the British Raj their physique and bravery had
the Garhwali listed among the ''martial races''. According to
this later-debunked theory developed in the wake of the 1857
Indian Mutiny, certain races were better suited to being
warriors, and so were actively recruited to the British Army.
Garhwali and their neighbours - Gurkhas, Kumaonis and Dogras
- made up a disproportionately high percentage of the Indian
soldiers serving in the armed forces of the British Empire.
And this continued after India won its independence in 1947,
in large part because the army offered the best employment
prospects in the mountainous region where industry was
Helping ensure Garhwali enlisted in large numbers was the
prince of Tehri Garhwal (a British-endorsed principality in
the east of the region) who declared his subjects could only
receive a primary education.
Although his reign ended in 1949, it has taken more than a
generation to overcome the legacy of poor education and
underdevelopment, Suryamani says.
Kedar and Suryamani's family name is taken from that of their
village, Anthwal, a village to which there was no road access
until a decade ago and no electricity until five years ago. A
village where food is still cooked on a wood-fired stove, and
where, in time-honoured fashion, it is the men who come
together to cook for weddings, births, religious festivals
This is where Garhwali men get their ''hand'' for cooking,
''From the age of 10, boys start cooking with the men ... If
there is any occasion, we have to feed the whole village. You
come and help at mine and then I will help at yours.''
And it is from this poorer area of Garhwal that many of the
An article in India Today earlier this year reported ''scores
of youths from Pangriyana, Bagar, Badyar and Sarpoli villages
are today working as chefs in Japan''.
''Anthwal village is next to Sarpoli and Badyar,'' Suryamani
Aware of a wider world, and with a culinary aptitude but
still-limited options, they are now flocking, not to the
army, but to the restaurants of the world.
The dishes they serve are another historical accident.
What Western restaurant-goers call Indian food is in fact
mostly Punjabi and Mughlai cuisine, the dominant fare of
northern India. This was where some of the key centres of
power in British India were based.
The British expatriates, when they returned home, took with
them their taste for curry, as well as some of the servants
who prepared it.
''The Punjabi were their servants,'' Suryamani said.
''And when they set up Indian restaurants they hired
''Punjabi were considered good businessmen and Garhwali were
considered good chefs.''
It is a pattern being repeated in several countries
throughout the world.
Sukhi Gill came to New Zealand from Punjab via the United
Kingdom. When he opened his first Little India restaurant in
Dunedin 32 years ago he hired Garhwali chefs. The Little
India franchise now has 18 restaurants throughout New
Zealand, and 95% of its chefs are still from Punjab's
It all works on family networks and word-of-mouth
recommendations, Christchurch-based Mr Gill says.
Prospective employees turn up at his parents' home in
Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab state, having heard from
relatives they might find work. His father checks their
references, while his mother tests their culinary expertise
and assesses their suitability.
Two or three times a year, Mr Gill flies over to make the
final hiring decisions.
That his employees share the same language and are often
related to each other is an advantage, he says.
''India to New Zealand is a long way,'' Mr Gill says.
''Having someone you know and can talk to makes the
He is pleased almost three-quarters of his chefs now have
residency and many are bringing their families to New
Two of the Little India restaurants are now run by Garhwali
Another Garhwali restaurant owner, in fact one who is the
owner of eight Indian Aroma restaurants, is Hamilton-based
Mr Lakhera came to New Zealand in 1997 and opened his first
restaurant in Mairangi Bay, Auckland, 10 years ago.
He has included a few Garhwali dishes on his menus and says
they are well received.
''Garhwali dishes have mixed vegetables and meats, and guests
enjoy it more than standard chicken curry,'' Mr Lakhera said.
He is concerned the Garhwali diaspora, as well as ''Western
and Bollywood influences'' are threatening the Garhwali
culture. An estimated 2.2 million people worldwide speak
Garhwali. But Unesco says the language is under threat.
''It is true that people are losing their culture and
language. It makes me very sad,'' Mr Lakhera said.
To combat it, he has set up a company in India which promotes
Garhwali music. He also plans to start a Garhwali association
in New Zealand.
IT is well known that Indians are the fastest-growing ethnic
Asian community in New Zealand and the second largest after
the Chinese. Statistics New Zealand figures show 106,000
Indians were resident in this country in 2006. And in the
decade to 2011, more than 51,000 long-term or permanent
Indian migrants arrived here, two thirds of them male. But
the Garhwali part of the picture is almost a complete mystery
Associate Professor Jacqui Leckie, who is head of the
anthropology and archaeology department at the University of
Otago, has written a history of Indian settlement in New
Zealand. It spans 90 years from the first settlers - Punjabi
brothers Bir and Phuman Gill, who arrived in about 1890 - to
1980, shortly before the first Garhwali probably arrived.
The suggestion most Garhwali came to New Zealand from a small
area in their homeland fitted well with typical Indian
migration patterns, Prof Leckie said.
The majority of the Indian settlers in New Zealand during
most of the 20th century came from groups of villages in
Punjab and Gujarat, she said.
Todd Nachowitz, a PhD student from the University of Waikato,
has been surveying the Indian community in New Zealand as
part of research on the effectiveness of this country's
multicultural policies. Only a handful of Garhwali speakers
filled out the survey, which had 1110 participants throughout
Professor Sekar Bandyopadhyay is the director of the newly
formed New Zealand India Research Institute, a
Wellington-based multidisciplinary partnership between five
New Zealand universities and two Indian universities. The
institute will focus on research in five areas - society and
culture, migration, economics and business, environmental
sustainability and politics and security.
It is planning to hold two conferences in New Zealand next
year for academics from New Zealand and India as well as a
joint Indo-New Zealand conference in India.
There has been no research on New Zealand's growing Garhwali
community, but it is hoped that would change, Prof
''The Indian diaspora will certainly be one aspect of the
first conference,'' he said.