Kashmir, Manila’s Oldest Indian Restaurant Was Started By Three Sisters In The Basement Of An Old GuesthouseMay 5, 2018
44-year old, family-run Indian restaurant Kashmir opened in 1974 in the basement of an old pension house in Ermita. It was the first Indian restaurant to open in Manila and the longest-running institution in Manila for Indian cuisine—they served Northern Indian Food that eventually expanded to Malaysian dishes, to halal, to a few Arabic dishes. Two years later, the need for expansion arose and they relocated to Arnaiz Avenue (now Pasay Road) which now continues to be their flagship restaurant to this day.
Sisters Sita, Kamla, and Indra found themselves bored at home one day and started cooking for their friends and family at home. Sita had her unofficial culinary training from their mother during WWII—when times were hard, friends would visit their house for food, comfort, and family. Sita became the de facto head cook at their home kitchen, and loved ones loved Sita’s cooking so much that they encouraged her to open her own restaurant. In 1974, Sita finally opened up Kashmir, which, after several years, became a household name in Manila. Her sisters, Kamla and Indra, took care of the operations side of the restaurant as the business grew.
Upon entering the restaurant, the initial thing that would strike you is how rich and striking the interiors look—walls adorned with patterns and textures, the low lighting, ornate chairs and chandeliers. The menu itself reads long and looks like a newsletter more than a menu, with pages upon pages of dishes that are mostly Northern Indian cuisine.
The food is more meat-focused with dishes like Khaas Seekh Kabab (minced lamb), Chicken Tandoori, and Raan-E-Taj (whole leg of kid mutton cooked in authentic North West style. They also boast a selection of vegetarian dishes like their best-selling Palaak Paneer (cheese curds swimming in a rich, herbaceous sauce made from pureed spinach with garam masala) Naan with curry sauces, Samosas that are fried to a crisp, and Fukna—tiny pockets of puff pastry filled with tamarind and spiced potatoes.
“At first, Indian food wasn’t that acceptable to the local crowd because their perception of Indian food is that it’s all spicy,” Indra recalls. But throughout the years, Kashmir would attract all sorts of guests and long-time patrons from around the world from many generations of political families to international celebrities like Francis Ford Coppola. With the exception of its Poblacion street food counterpart (with a selection that’s less traditional: rice meals, shawarma, and even nachos), Kashmir’s menu remains untouched to this day. “We’ve seen several generations of families dine here. Most of them don’t want us to change the menu because they always love coming back to the same old classic dishes we’ve served from the beginning!” shares Kamla.
The longest-running Indian restaurant in Manila.