Interview with Mowgli's Founder: Nisha Katona

The legendary Indian street food restaurant has come to Glasgow. After opening in Edinburgh and other locations all over Britain. The most recent one is in Glasgow's city centre on St Vincent Street. The airy and elegantly decorated venue has swinging tables and beautiful brass decorations. The large windows open the space and the dual layered seating areas, provide many nooks and tables to have either family meals or romantic dinners.

The venue boasts private dining rooms which are especially luxurious and can seat large groups and be hired for special occasions. I arrived and was escorted to the table which had a wonderful over the bar and downstairs seating. We ordered a tiffin box with three curries and some chat bombs.

The curries were fresh and delightful, especially when paired with the cardamom rice and puri’s. The yogurt and tamarind chat bombs were so scrumptious that we ordered anther round after we had finished our mains!

We finished the meal off with two mango and tequila cocktails that tasted a little like an "adult" version of mango lassi. The desserts were the perfect way to end the meal. First, we chose the brownie which was thick with dark chocolate and the perfect texture. The second dessert was the gulab jamun, a traditional Indian dessert that is essentially syrup soaked dough balls with vanilla ice-cream

I was lucky enough to interview Nisha Katona, the owner and creator of Mowgli’s. She is a published author and barrister, a powerful woman with an eye for entrepreneurship and a passion for well-cooked authentic Indian food.

What inspired you to start Mowgli’s?

The dishes that she tried and ate in her local curry houses were not right. After spending half a year in India and another half in Britain she realised that there was a discrepancy in the Indian food that she was eating in the two places.

She felt there was a stark lack of authenticity and decided that she had to change that. Her mission was to bring authentic Bengali brahmin food to the British Isle, there are lots of other different types of food that can be found in India she pointed out but if you want to feel like Bengal mother is cooking for you then Mowgli’s is the place to be

This mission began with her posting recipes on twitter. She then combined the recipes into a cookbook that was published in (find date). It was this set that led her to consider opening a small restaurant in Liverpool.

How did you come up with the recipes?

The recipes used are all family-based ones; the same ones that her ancestors made and loved. Her approach to creating the menu for Mowgli’s was to create authentic freshly made curries and street food that represented what she ate during her time in India. Its success is due to the flavour of the food. It is definitely a family based venture, she often takes her mother, dog and other family members to scout out the venues before choosing them.

Did you envision it would be as successful as it has become?

She said that it was more a curiosity “to see if the food would also be as addictive to the wider population as it has evidently been within my family for generations.” The establishment was not intended to become a large business empire as it has but it was more of a test to see how the recipes would do.

Nisha reminded me during the interview of the humble nature of her intentions and remarked that “you are only as good as your last curry”. Which is a lovely way of phrasing it.

I noticed the carbon footprints on the menu - how have you lowered the carbon emissions for the dish’s food?

When I asked the staff, they mentioned that each dish with a little food print meant that a significant amount of effort had gone into making the production of the dish as carbon neutral as possible.

During the interview I asked Nisha about the foot prints, to which she enthusiastically replied that sustainability was at the heart of her entrepreneurial ideology. She told me that each restaurant had a designated sustainability sergeant whose job it was to call out examples of waste and create methods to improve the overall carbon footprint of the company.

Mowgli’s is also a promoter of the sustainable palm oil movement, and they encourage other companies to follow them into this movement. It is one of the most effective ways that restaurants and other food industry businesses can make a significant difference.

Nisha also mentioned that The Mowgli Trust charity is also a big part of the business. One aspect of this trust is located in Assam, India where they create projects encouraging bio-mass fuels and other methods to support female entrepreneurs in the local area.

What is your favourite thing about Scotland and its food culture?

“Clootie dumpling” she exclaimed, “or maybe white pudding”. She was very enthusiastic about Scottish food and culture. As soon as she could drive, she brought a camper-van and took it through the highlands and islands. Exploring the local produce and enjoying the abundant seafood that was available. When I asked what her favourite restaurant was, she claimed that it was more the produce that drew her to Scotland rather than individual restaurants. She made a wonderful point that “the further north that you go the more flavourful the produce becomes.”

Scotland is part of her life’s landscape, from visiting friends in Edinburgh to mooting at Glasgow University, and then travelling through the highlands. She told me that she would only open a Mowgli’s in locations that meant something to her and had been a part of her life.

What about Indian food do you think appeals to people so much? Why does it have such a strong place in British culture?

British culture is uniquely open-minded about food.” This does seem to be true they are a culture that embraces different flavours and from all over the world without judgement. Also “spice is quite addictive” she mentioned and Indian food is full of spice and seasoning. Not just in the heat sense but the sheer range of aromats and flavours. It creates such unique tastes and experiences within Indian food. So much so that the British Isle has been hooked on it for centuries.

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