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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Currying favour with Saddam
By Sampath Kumar
BBC correspondent in Madras

Khaja Mohideen
Khaja Mohideen: "Strongly recommended" for his culinary skills

A fast-food owner in the southern Indian city of Madras known for his delicious preparation of biryani (or flavoured rice) has a new claim to fame: he cooked for deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Khaja Mohideen, who was a cook in Saddam Hussein's presidential palace in the 1980s, says he has only pleasant memories of his two years there.

He got the job after passing what he calls a tough recruitment test in cooking.

But it took him three months after landing in Baghdad before he was appointed part of a special team of cooks for the Iraqi leader.

In that time he worked in some ministers' houses - including the home of former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz - before being strongly recommended to the president's house on the basis of his excellent culinary skills.

Mr Mohideen says the presidential palace had five modern kitchens each for Arabic, Indian, Chinese, continental and Egyptian food.

Saddam 'loved treats'

Although he was never allowed to watch them eat - Khaja says he cooked for Saddam and about 50 other people.

He says Saddam loved Indian food - specially Mughal treats - including south Indian lentil soup known as rasam and chicken biryani cooked with basmati rice.

Saddam made it a point to ask Khaja to prepare his food with less salt and moderate spices.

The deposed Iraqi leader is accused of a raft of human rights abuses during his time in power.

But Khaja was full of praise for the dictator as a person, calling him a kind man who looked out especially for the poor.

He says it was Saddam who persuaded him to leave Iraq in the late Eighties, ahead of the war with Iran.

Khaja said Saddam told him to get back to his home country and his family because he had nothing to do with the upcoming war.


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