When describing the differences between north and south Indian food, Swamy Akuthota will take you on a culinary journey that spans thousands of years.

Mr Akuthota and his wife Padmaja opened their successful Satya restaurant in Hobson St in 1999 after moving to New Zealand in 1996 with their two sons. They now run four branches of Satya (which is the Sanskrit word for 'truth') in Karangahape Rd, Great North Rd, Mt Eden Rd and Sandringham Rd.

In an act of goodwill during the 2011 recession, the family offered free meals on Christmas Day at all branches of Satya, a tradition they have repeated every year since. This year they served 1000 people in the four restaurants.

According to Mr Akuthota, food is a hobby for any Indian and he has travelled far and wide to discover new recipes.


"Every alternate day I used to go by train or by plane and visit different towns and enjoy the taste of food on the streets. I had many tummy upsets because of that. The real taste comes from street food. You can see what's happening in front of your eyes."

Mr Akuthota researched the history of dosa (a filled pancake) for several years and eventually found mention of the dish in a literary work from the 4th century.

Swamy Akuthota's parents would take the whole family on long journeys to seek out special dishes. Photo / Nick Reed
Swamy Akuthota's parents would take the whole family on long journeys to seek out special dishes. Photo / Nick Reed

There are marked differences between northern and southern cuisine, he says. In mountainous regions, the food stayed free of colonial influences and is lighter because of the tropical climate.

Many of the Southern Indian dishes on the menu are old recipes from Mrs Akuthota's family. "The green bean coconut, the eggplant curry, the chicken gongura, lamb gongura, all these are very old recipes," she says.

One of the most popular dishes on the menu, Dahi Puri, is a mandatory entree for any regular Satya customer.

These crunchy wheat shells filled with potato and chickpeas topped with yoghurt and tamarind chutney are seriously addictive - so much so that Mr Akuthota's father would drive his family 40km from his hometown of Guntur, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, just to get them.

"We were all taken to a place called Vijayawada, where a person from Rajasthan had a small cart in a very small alley. He had these pani puri and dahi puri and we were always craving for these foods.

"The grandson of this vendor is still selling the same relishes even today at the same spot."

To become a chef in a Satya restaurant, applicants must go through a live-cooking test where they must prepare a dry curry, a wet curry, a rice item, a chutney and a bread item, all in 16 to 17 minutes.

One chef continuously applied over six years before he was given a job - and he now works in the kitchen at the Great North Rd branch.

As a result, the staff are all close to Mr and Mrs Akuthota.

"We're more than a family, really. Nowadays the families are disintegrated, we still carry those ethics and morals, what we came from, what we carried over."