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A taste of India

By Kimoy Leon Sing

Upon entering the newly opened Ghazal restaurant, one could not help but visualise scenes from a Bollywood love story. The muted lighting and romantic Hindi songs playing in the background created an atmosphere that was welcoming and intimate.

Open for the past three months, the restaurant serves anything from Tandoori Baby Octopus to Lobster Pathiramanal.

Chef and owner Sanji Thankappan loves infusing spices from his homeland, India, with diverse local flavours of Trinidad and Tobago to create meals for his customers that encompasses his love for food and his country. Located at the corner of Ana Street and Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook, the restaurant boasts an exciting and interesting menu. From pepper shrimp to masala-fried calamari with spicy tamarind salsa, Thankappan relishes the smiles on his customers' faces and says that's what gives him the most satisfaction at the end of the day.

If you do not care for seafood, Ghazal has four distinct menus from which to choose. You can try the Boti Malabari Kebab, which consists of boneless lamb cubes; marinated overnight in yogurt and kerala spices and grilled in Tandoor, off the Chef's Speciality Menu. If you love authentic Indian cuisine, then you can try the Tandoori chicken, Boti Kebab or Chicken Biryani, off the Classic Indian Menu at Ghazal. If you want something vegetarian, you could try the Navarathan Khorma, which consists of vegetables cooked in almond and cashew sauce and garnished with fruits and nuts. You can also choose from the Allappey Vegetables Curry or the Dhal Makhani.

The rich, bold colours strewn across the walls also carry over to the draping hung from the ceiling. Serving up mostly authentic Indian cuisine, the tantalising, pungent spices that emulate from the kitchen entice you to come in, sit and take a bite.

The Express visited the establishment recently and sat down with Chef Thankappan to find out more about the man behind the food. Thankappan left his home Kerala in India and came to Trinidad almost eight years ago after hearing from a friend about the rich and vast food history and culture of Trinidad. Impressed with the local flavours available from such a small island, Thankappan remained and has been cooking ever since.

A chef for the past 12 years, Thankappan soon discovered, like everything else in life, there would be some obstacles he would have to overcome along the way.

Apart from learning a whole new language, Thankappan said, "When I first came to Trinidad, I had to understand what "Trinis" like. I quickly understood that local Indian food and authentic Indian food are very different. I appreciate what both have to offer, but it was a learning process. I use flavours from India, local flavours as well as international ones, to create something that is not just pleasing to the eye, but also the stomach."

He said, "Food has always been my passion. From the time I was a little boy, I grew up watching my mother and grandmother cook. They are ones who made me love cooking so much. I always wanted to open my own restaurant and from the decor to the food; everything I did by myself. At Ghazal, our dishes are unique and anything on the menu I can customise to suit a customer's needs. This I think also makes us different from other restaurants.

"My food is always dramatic. From the presentation to the actual meal, I strive to make the dining experience one to savour and enjoy," he added.

Catering for all sorts of occasions, Ghazal opens from 11 a.m., Monday to Saturday.

For more information, call 222-8006.

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