Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“I wanted a good future for any children I might have“
In 1994, a new Indian restaurant opened in Utrecht: Namaskar on Vredenburg. It was a real happening, articles in the Telegraaf, AD Utrecht and various other local newspapers. The Bengalese owner Gopal Dey and his wife were delighted, as most Dutch people had never experienced Indian cuisine. Why not a Bengalese restaurant? ‘Nobody knew anything about Bengalese food, so the place would have been empty. But it’s very like Indian food.’
Namaskar was initially fairly posh. The waitresses wore traditional Indian clothes and the waiters wore suits. But it wasn’t popular. Gopal realised that he should be aiming for the Utrecht students so he went down-market, made it simpler.
Gopal and his wife arrived in the Netherlands in 1981. ‘A friend offered me a work permit and a job in an Indian restaurant in Arnhem. I didn’t hesitate. I wanted a good future for any children I might have. I also wanted a peaceful life in a country without corruption and problems.’ Despite already having trained as a chef, Gopal took cookery classes in Arnhem from someone who taught him to tone down the fat and chilli in his dishes. ‘Europeans don’t like it’, explains Gopal, ‘they think about their health.’ Seven years later, he moved to Utrecht and opened his own restaurant.
Light on the other side
Gopal talks about what he’s learned from Utrecht. He loved the city from the word go, befriending other people in the catering trade by playing snooker with them after work in a room above the former Cartouch disco on Mariaplaats or in Biltstraat. ‘I’m so busy these days that I’m worn out by the end of my shift’, he says. The renovations to Vredenburg have increased his trade dramatically. ‘During the years this took, it was really quiet. The street had been dug up and all the roads were closed. We had no passing trade and we nearly folded.’ But unlike some of the other restaurants on Vredenburg, Namaskar managed to survive. ‘We started doing deliveries, this saved us from going under.’ But with TivoliVredenburg and the Netherlands’ busiest bike path right outside the door, business is now booming.
Gopal’s young adult sons were born in Utrecht: one in Hoograven and the other in Kanaleneiland, where Gopal and his wife still live. So what do their boys eat? ‘They don’t just eat spicy Indian food, they like milder dishes too. After all, they were raised in the Netherlands.’
Gopal wants to open another restaurant in a new part of Utrecht: Leidsche Rijn. ‘Until recently, I lived on the outskirts of the city; a few years ago it was still dark on the other side of Merwedekanaal, but now a whole new estate lights up in the evenings.’ He likes it there, although he admits it’s a bit dull. He prefers Kanaleneiland and his view of the canal. He often walks along the bank with his wife, across the lovely new boulevard.
Gopal has no plans to retire yet but he thinks that eventually, one of his sons (both of whom work at Namaskar) will take over the business. ‘They keep telling me: ‘Namaskar has a good reputation, you worked hard for that’.’ Gopal smiles. It’s exactly what he’d imagined all those years ago.
Name: Gopal Dey
Place of birth: Sylhet, Bangladesh
Date of birth: 11 January 1953
Motto: “Don’t dream for yourself, dream for your children”
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.