But it wasn’t until six years ago that Pakistan-born Raja Mahmood Janjua gave authentic Pakistani food its debut in the capital, with Nan n Kabab Restaurant.
Raja had been working for a bank in Dubai when he met his future Vietnamese wife. The same year they got married and moved to Hanoi. That was 14 years ago.
“When I first came here I was buying Vietnamese white marble and selling it abroad,” he says. “But eventually the business slowed down because too many people were doing it. That’s when I started thinking about opening a restaurant.”
“I used my contacts back in Pakistan to make a list of chefs that were interested in moving abroad,” he continues. “Then I’d fly back there, visit the restaurants and try the chef’s food, and whichever one I liked the most I’d bring back to Vietnam.”
“My barbeque chef is 65 years old, and already has 35 years of experience in making kababs. He’s made kababs in top restaurants in Korea, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and now Vietnam.
“Our naan bread chef has got 10 years of experience in Pakistan, making Turkish, Arabic and Pakistani bread, and our a la carte menu chef, I found him serving banquets at weddings in Pakistan.
“All of them earn more in Vietnam than they would back in Pakistan, so all of them are happy to be here.”
Since opening their doors six years ago, Raja and his team have succeeded in spreading their cuisine to the local community in Hanoi.
“Whereas at first we were just serving westerners, who know and love kabab, now 40 percent of our customers are Vietnamese,” says Raja. “We just want to share our beautiful cuisine to other people.”
“We started to introduce it to the locals by offering a cheap lunch buffet, and we also gave out vouchers. Eventually we started to see a shift in our customer base.
“It’s difficult to introduce a new cuisine to people. Pakistani food is spicy, and our kababs are different to anything that the Vietnamese were used to. But now the city is changing, and people’s lifestyles are changing. Friends I had 10 years ago that were driving broken motorbikes are now driving luxury cars, and they want to experience new things.”
Raja opened a restaurant in Danang in 2017 and will be expanding to Phu Quoc later this year.
PHOTO BY MARCUS LACEY
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