n 1942, twelve year-old Kantabai left her home region of Katia Wahd, Gujarat, to join her new Brahmin husband in the port of Porbandar. The bride's only dowry was her Katia Whadi heritage. It would soon absorb African influences and, years later, generate a gastronomic success story in the far off U.K.
Although small, Katia Wahd is famous throughout India for its stunning natural beauty, exotic religious rituals and the disproportionate amount of poets born to its flamboyant people. Key to our story is its unusual climate: it provided an ideal home for the foreign tomato which is difficult to grow in India and, when available, expensive.
Kantabai's new relatives loved her tomato-based cooking. But their pleasure would be brief. It was still 1942 and Odhavji Thanki took his bride off to Uganda. He set up a successful catering business while Kantabai experimented with African vegetables and recipes.
In 1969, Odhavji dropped a bombshell: he saw trouble ahead and it was time to return to India. What prompted him, nobody knows. Within three years an unknown army officer, Idi Amin, seized power and expelled Uganda's Asians. The Thankis, however, were already long gone.
In 1982, Kantabai's sons, Dinesh and Manubai, came to the U.K. Blissfully ignorant of European folklore, they opened the KASTOORI on Friday the 13th of February, 1987. "We have enough superstitions of our own," says their cousin and chef, Manoj Thanki, with a wry half-smile.
Having chosen Tooting for its large Asian population, nobody expected the influx of patrons from all over London. At first, it was a cause for bewilderment, particularly for Manubai Thanki. But, more than 21 years later, even he has got used to the diehard, loyal customers who tell him that they have travelled from France or Belgium just to eat at the KASTOORI.
His mother passed away in 2006. Her home-grown genius had created a uniquely Thanki landmark. The tomato-based recipes, her absorption of African ideas… KASTOORI's success is nothing less than Kantabai's legacy.