Serving up by far the BEST INDIAN FOOD in Berlin, Chutnify is leagues ahead of any competition thanks to their approach to food quality, interior design and charming service! Having succeeded in Berlin’s ever-crowded streetfood scene whilst also setting up not one, but two restaurants in Berlin (and now another in Lisbon, Portugal!) which have subsequently got us Berliners absolutely hooked on the South Indian Dosa, we simply had to interview entrepreneurial & quite inspirational owner Aparna Aurora to find out a little more…
Your South Indian Dosas are something that is new to people in Berlin, but presumably very common in India. For those unaware, tell us exactly what a Dosa is and what makes it so delicious?
A dosa is often compared to a crepe, because what it does best is serve as a vessel for delicious sauces, chutneys and fillings.
Dosas are thin, crispy and absorbent, much like a crepe, but are actually naturally gluten free. This is because the batter is made from fermented rice and lentil flours.
The classic flavour triad is: masala-seasoned potato filling, a side katori of sambar, a tangy and spicy tamarind-based lentil broth, and coconut chutney!
(c) Adam Berry
Was it the rarity of the Dosa in Berlin that inspired you to start the business serving it… or did you want to set up a restaurant first and then chose the Dosa as your speciality?
Everything happened quite organically actually!
Ultimately deciding to open a restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg and to focus on South Indian food and dosas was a declaration of faith in the neighbourhood AND in the cuisine. I just had a feeling that bringing something new and delicious into the food scene would work.
Dosas are beloved in India, and are really undeniably tasty to all types of eaters, as they can be served in such a variety of ways. It seemed like the perfect thing to introduce to Berlin!
(c) Adam Berry
Did you need to do much research into adapting the flavour profiles to match European tastes, or would you say your filled Dosas are very similar to what one might find on the streets in South India?
We try our absolute best to make the dosas as authentic as possible. Because the climate is so different, this makes the fermentation process a bit tricky.
Otherwise, all of our house recipes have not been adapted to match more European flavour profiles—we fall back on the tradition of Indian food and really hope that if you close your eyes and focus on your taste buds, you’ll forget you’re in Berlin. This spicy approach isn’t for everyone, but we know it is what distinguishes Chutnify in the Indian food niche in Berlin.
If you could only make one Dosa from your menu as a last meal, what would it be?
That’s a tough question, and the answer definitely depends on my mood!
The cheese dosa is one of my favourites. The crispy dosa shell, the melty cheese and the spicy green chillies make a perfect flavour and texture combination!
What were the biggest challenges in setting up the restaurant?
Setting up a restaurant can sometimes feel like overcoming a series of challenges—whether they are related to financing the project, renovating the space, or creating a team that will bring it alive.
One of the biggest challenges of all was establishing relationships with our food suppliers. At first, they didn’t see how serious I was and the consequence of that for us was not starting off with competitive cost prices. It was hugely rewarding to prove the success of Chutnify and get to that negotiating table!
You decided to open your second Berlin restaurant in Neukölln. Do you offer the same food in both locations and do you see the two audiences as quite different?
When the second Chutnify opened in Neukölln, we had the exact same menu in both locations and intended that they would stay the same. But, we slowly learned changed our minds about this.
Though we get quite a mixed crowd in both locations, we noticed that Neuköllners want more vegetarian and vegan options. They also want snackier, cheaper eats and so we try our best to accommodate that.
(c) Adam Berry
(c) Adam Berry
Besides Dosas, you also serve some wonderful curries which are leagues ahead of bigger “Indian” restaurants that existed in Berlin since the 1990s. Why do you think Berlin has suffered in quality of Indian food so far?
Firstly, thanks! It is always a delight to hear that our curries are appreciated.
I think that to a certain degree, it’s very hard to serve any type of food to the public if they aren’t ready for it. It takes a bit of courage and resolve to stick to serving a spicy, robust curry from an authentic recipe, because many guests are going to complain that they haven’t encountered it before and don’t like it.
Sometimes our visitors dislike our approach, but I feel confident that we are following a concept of Indian food that is modern, but humble and true to Indian tradition.
Lots of Indian restaurants in Berlin don’t feel the same pull that we do and focus on variations that have morphed into Europeanised, pseudo Indian food. It’s unfortunately quite far away from what people eat in India. The focus on fat-laden, saucy, creamy recipes at some restaurants certainly pulls in guests who are looking for an indulgent meal… but you just can’t really call it an Indian meal.
Of course, restaurants are also at fault when they simply fail to offer a high quality product. If you’re not sourcing and importing high quality, fresh ingredients, the food just won’t taste good.
What did you used to do before Chutnify…. And how is the lifestyle different?
Before Chutnify, I worked in the fashion industry for over twenty years. I had the opportunity to work for brands like Hugo Boss and GAP, as well as to create my own clothing line.
The fashion industry is very fast-paced, but owning a restaurant has been to operate on a whole different sort of rhythm.
I love the pulse of being an entrepreneur—working with my staff to build up a place that people love to come and spend time at never gets dull. And of course, now my clothing is all infused with the smell of curry. That’s certainly new!
You have just opened another Chutnify in Lisbon. What drew you to Portugal and how did the experience of opening up a restaurant there differ from opening a restaurant in Berlin?
Lisbon and Berlin are quite different in some respects, but they both have a fresh and exciting culinary scene.
I was drawn to Lisbon because I found the residents to be curious. There is a vast potential to reach new guests and bring them on a journey to discover Indian food that is playful, new and inventive..but also humble and true.
Where do you like to eat / drink / go out in Berlin?
If I want to have an amazing brunch, House of Small wonders has a great menu and hipster vibes.
For a night out, I would go to Kin Dee—what a fabulous new addition to the Berlin food scene! I tried the tasting menu and it is exquisite. The plating is breathtaking and the interpretation of the Thai kitchen is so refreshing.
Complete the following sentence “For me, Berlin is…”
A mixed pot!
There are many sides to the city: fun, playful, dark, intense. It’s never boring or dull, and there is always something new and creative around the corner. Sometimes I have the feeling that anything goes—you see this reflected in the art, food and music scene here. People can really experiment with concepts because the city is quite receptive.
(c) Adam Berry
Don’t miss out on trying either Chutnify location in Berlin – they really know how to give you a memorable meal and we at Oooh, Berlin highly recommend it !