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.]”
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.