For many Indian business people in Guangzhou, a dinner at Sharma Ji, a vegetarian Indian restaurant would be a welcome taste of home.
"I feel so happy to find the food here tastes exactly the same as I have back in India, and this gives me a sense of belonging and injects impetus for my business trip," said Gaurang Thakrar, an Indian businessman on his first visit to China.
According to Sharma Ji, the founder of the restaurant, back in 1990s, there was no single Indian restaurant in Guangzhou though an increasing number of Indians traveled here for business.
"It was really difficult for them to 'survive' for a long time without pure vegetarian Indian food," said the founder.
In 1999, Sharma Ji opened the first Indian restaurant in Guangzhou. Covering only a dozen square meters, it could only accommodate eight guests at the beginning. After 20 years of development, the bistro is now a preferred place for business talks and Indian family gathering, with space big enough to serve 120 guests as a time.
However, for Amit Sharma, one of the three brothers who co-manage the restaurant with their father, it is not only a place to enjoy the home tastes, but also where his dream began.
In 2005, Amit came to Guangzhou to start his business after finishing school. As a newcomer to the city, he felt easy to get himself involved here.
"Many Chinese staff working in the restaurant are amicable to me and they teach me various skills including a good command of Chinese," he said, "We are just like a big family now."
Zhu Guihua, the chef and waitress in the restaurant, is one of his Chinese teachers. She has been working here since 2004.
As Zhu teaches Chinese and Chinese culture to Amit, she also learns how to cook authentic Indian cuisine from Amit."I first worked here only as a waitress, but with 15 years of learning and staying with Indian friends, I no longer feel awkward to entertain the Indian guests and I am able to cook Indian food now," Zhu said.
Five years ago, Amit and his family were invited to Zhu's hometown in central China's Hunan Province during the Spring Festival. The two families from two countries gathered together for this reunion-themed event in China.
Apart from Zhu, more and more Chinese foodies have joined the big family.
"I'm crazy for Indian food, so I come here for dinner every day," said Guo Lei, a local vegetarian.
Frequent visits make him a popular face among Indians. "Apart from the delicious food here, chatting with my Indian friends make me feel at ease," Guo said.
With the help of Chinese friends, Amit's Chinese has achieved great progress, which helps him expand his business scope. "In the restaurant, I can both offer Indian businessman the home taste and relevant information on Chinese business environment," Amit said.
Now, managing the restaurant has become his avocation as Amit is busy with his foreign trade business. "I have no time for leisure as my business here in Guangzhou is still expanding, and till the night, I can take time off my busy schedule to entertain guests in the restaurant," he said.
Amit owes his booming business to the closer China-India relations. "Only good ties between the two countries can bring about more and more economic and people-to-people exchanges, which will then fuel my business and help realize my dream," he said.
Amit's next plan is to set up 26 Indian chain restaurants in Guangzhou and bring his home taste to both Indian travelers and Chinese consumers.
"Guangzhou is like my hometown now and I am going to settle down here," he said.