Curry-filled love story brings Indian restaurant to Antwerp

Summary

Mission Masala is the port city’s newest Indian restaurant – and it’s like no other

Funky soul food

After years of touring Belgium in their food trucks, husband and wife team Tim Van den Heuvel and Pavan Bajwa have set down permanent stakes in Antwerp with their new restaurant Mission Masala.

Walking into the restaurant, which opened last week, feels a bit like being transported to India. Natural wood tables are surrounded by vibrant blues and yellows.

“That was something that was really clear to us, that it has to be colourful, vibrant,” says Bajwa. “It has to look like you stepped into a street in India.”

The couple met a few years ago during Antwerp’s famous Laundry Day music festival, where port city native Van den Heuvel was a DJ. Bajwa, from London, had come to Flanders to work and planned to stay for just a couple of years.

But the pair bonded immediately over their love of food. After getting married and planting roots in Antwerp, they noticed there were very few places for Bajwa to find a slice of Indian life.

Mango mayonnaise

Van den Heuvel was interested in getting in on the food truck craze, so he thought combining the two ideas might work. He bought a beat-up food truck, fixed it up and told Bajwa to get the menu ready.

The combination worked a charm, and one food truck turned into two, one devoted to barbecue. Four years on and the new, permanent Mission Masala can be found on Troonplaats in Antwerp’s Brederode neighbourhood, south of the city centre.

The varied menu, tagged ‘desi Indian soul food’, is a mixture of both previous trucks, from classic curries and the thin, crispy papadums to burgers with Indian twists, like mango mayonnaise and tamarind sauce. The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner and is open all day for drinks.

Now that we have a proper kitchen, we can bring all the flavours to the menu

- Co-owner Pavan Bajwa

“This is a perfect environment for us to add things that you cannot traditionally cook in a food truck,” explains Bajwa. “Now that we have a proper kitchen, we can bring all the flavours to the menu and complementing them with drinks.”

According to early reviews from customers, Mission Masala is unique in the port city. While there are other Indian restaurants, they tend towards the traditional kinds of interiors westerners associate with Indian restaurants. Nothing has this funky street-food feel to it.

Bajwa and Van den Heuvel’s long-term vision is to replicate this creative picture of India in other cities. But they plan to get their bearings first. Bajwa: “We need to walk before we can run.”

Photo: Gilles Draps/The Wicked