(From left) Owners Nitish Kamath, Raghu Bala, Rathish Kunnath, Aswin Sreekanthan (chef) Susheel Hadigal and Jithin Jose
(From left) Owners Nitish Kamath, Raghu Bala, Rathish Kunnath, Aswin Sreekanthan (chef) Susheel Hadigal and Jithin Jose

Gastronomic Gambit

Spisoh, a South Indian restaurant in Stavanger, Norway, is getting a thumbs-up from top Indian chess players

During the ongoing Norway Chess championship 2024 in May, in Stavanger (550 km from Oslo), Indian grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa had a sudden hankering for some South Indian food. The fact that he was almost 7,000 km from home, made it near impossible to satiate his craving. But it was almost as if the organisers had anticipated such moments. They had roped in Spisoh, Stavanger’s only South Indian restaurant, as a sponsor. Accompanied by his sister Vaishali, a grandmaster herself, and mother Nagalakshmi, Praggnanandhaa headed to the restaurant and asked co-owner Nitish Kamath, “What do you recommend?”

Kamath said, “Since you are from Tamil Nadu, why don’t you have Kozhi (chicken) Milagu curry?”

Praggnanandhaa opted to have it with Kerala parotta. Vaishali and Nagalakshmi ordered ghee dosa.

Other chess greats from India, like Koneru Humpy and D Gukesh are regulars too when they are in the city for the annual chess tournament. “Humpy orders every day when she is here. Her favourite is Hyderabadi biriyani, Kodi Vepudu (Andhra-style chilly chicken) and tomato rasam, while Gukesh’s father indulges in Lamb masala every day,” says the 48-year-old Kamath, who works at Equinor, an energy company.

There are quite a few Indians working in the IT and oil and gas industry in Stavanger. They had been living in the city for over 15 years. The idea of the restaurant was born out of need to find some work opportunity. Rohini Sasidharan, the wife of one of the Indian immigrants, Rathish Kunnath, who works with Rosenberg, an engineering company, found it difficult to get a job. Wanting to do something, she came up with the idea of opening a restaurant with her husband and his friends.

“We were cautious, as none of us have any experience in the food industry,” says Kamath. They discovered there were eight Indian restaurants in Stavanger. All of them provided similar fare like butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, paneer and naan. The group thought it would make more business sense if they stuck to their South Indian roots, as most of them were from Kerala. “We wanted to cultivate a taste for a new cuisine,” says Kamath. The name, Spisoh, is a combination of the words spiser (eating in Norsk) and khaoh (eating in Hindi).

In July 2021, during Covid, the team rented a small kitchen and began as a takeaway outlet. “The idea was to test out whether this type of food would have takers,” says Kamath. Around the same time, co-owner Raghu Bala, a senior engineer with the WoodGroup company, met Chef Aswin Sreekanthan, who had lost his job during Covid. The Chennai native had been working in an Italian restaurant in Oslo and previously headed a chain of hotels in Portugal. The Spisoh team hired him and on March 4, 2023, started the 30-seater physical restaurant, in Løkkeveien city centre.

The food is not only popular with Indians, but Norwegians and European travellers too. Dosas, owning to their similarity to crepes, and parottas are a hit. Local Pakistanis, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshis are also regular patrons. “Many of them have only had North Indian food, so South Indian food is a novelty,” says Kamath.

Susheel Hadigal, grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa with his sister and mother, and Nitish Kamath
Susheel Hadigal, grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa with his sister and mother, and Nitish Kamath

The restaurant also stresses uplifting the immigrant Indian community. A few women, who travelled to Norway on a dependent visa, work at Spisoh as kitchen assistants, front-office and cleaning staff. Kamath says, “It is a bit of a struggle for immigrants in the initial years to settle down. Spisoh is about food, but it is also about giving opportunities to the Indian diaspora.” The restaurant seems to be making the right moves.

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