Cover Now on its 48th year, Kashmir opens its new outlet in BGC under the stewardship of Leon Araneta

Now located at a stylish BGC address, Indian restaurant Kashmir inches closer to its 50-year-old mark with revitalised flavour

As a verifiable regular of Kashmir, the Philippines’ oldest Indian restaurant, Leon Araneta’s fondness for Indian fare is unsurprising. But with no prior experience in F&B, his acquisition of the dining institution caught many off-guard: How did a Filipino end up owning a 48-year old Indian restaurant?

“In 2016, I heard from the son of one of the owners that Kashmir was going up for sale,” narrates the brazen entrepreneur. “My first thought was—here is an institution restaurant, Kashmir, the first heritage Indian restaurant in the Philippines where many people first experienced Indian food. I just could not stomach the idea that another culinary institution could be sold for parts, thrown away and forgotten. Sayang. [It would be a shame.]”

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A man with adoration for heritage, Araneta continues to honour the historical significance of Kashmir: a symbol of not only Indian cuisine and culture but one of family. Founded by sisters Indra, Kamala, and Sita in 1974, Kashmir was born from an earnest passion to cook food made with love, and an enthusiasm to share this bounty with loved ones.

Despite the change in custodianship, Kashmir’s heartwarming charm and sincerity endure. Not only has Araneta inherited the wealth of time-tested recipes that made the restaurant a culinary institution, but he has even reused the wall mouldings from the original outpost and refurbished 40-year-old chairs from the founders’ homes. “These are small details. But they are part of our history that we should care for,” Araneta explains. On the other hand, one key element that Kashmir loyalists will surely recognise is the familiar faces at the new address. “We were fortunate to have kept and maintained most of the people from the original location,” he beams.

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With Araneta’s entrepreneurial spirit at the helm, stagnancy is not an option. The contemporary BGC outpost brims with a revitalised and vibrant personality, from the striking colour palette handpicked by acclaimed Spanish muralist Cesar Caballero to the stunning artwork by Smruthi “Smu” Gargi Eswar that graces its walls. Having witnessed the rich culture of India first-hand, Araneta wants to establish Kashmir as the gateway to enjoying a richer breadth of Indian cuisines, design, and even music. “I admit we are only sharing a small part of India’s culinary heritage,” he humbly shares, “but every journey starts with a small taste.”

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Kashmir’s North Indian cuisine is known for creamy, spicy curries, as well as the utilisation of fresh meat, produce, and thoughtfully-sourced dairy products—selections that long-time patrons are well-acquainted with, thanks to traditional dishes like the mutton seekh kebab, palak paneer, rogan josh, and samosas. “We bow,” reads the blurb for the timeless chicken tikka masala, “a dish so well put together it will introduce itself.” A signature at Kashmir, the seconds-worthy dish begs for roti, garlic naan, or hefty scoops of biryani for an infallible feast. Now, these comforting classics harmoniously co-exist with a slew of new, innovative creations.

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With its roots firmly planted in traditional North Indian cuisines, Kashmir sets its sights on the future. Beyond unique dishes like the mutton seekh burger and cocktails like the Italian-Indian New Deli Negroni, Araneta also hopes to propel the plant-based movement in the Philippines by pushing vegan and vegetarian dishes to the forefront. “After my own travels to India, I realized that we haven’t even scratched the surface of the wealth of plant-based dishes,” he reflects. Okra curry, organic mushroom tandoori, and dhal chana are just a handful of the compelling testaments to the potential of meatless fare. Similarly, Araneta has taken the opportunity to celebrate local produce by showcasing artisans like Kai Farms and Mouldy Blooms, as well as growing their own vegetables on the restaurant’s rooftop.

As the heritage establishment approaches the big five-oh, Araneta reminisces about his own connection with Indian fare. “The first time I tried Indian food was with my Indian classmates at the Asian Institute of Management,” he recalls. “What made Indian food so welcoming for me was how warm they were, inviting me to sit down and eat with them. . . they were happy to share.” By an unexpected twist of fate, he now invites guests to embark on a gastronomic adventure into Indian food alongside him, bringing his tale full circle.

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