We thank you for your patience last week, if your dinner plans were foiled by our temporary closing. What was the occasion? Just a visit from none other than Guy Fieri, host of The Food Network series, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives! We are so honored by the opportunity to share our passion for delicious, homegrown food with a national audience. The airing date is yet to be announced, but keep an eye out for updates and we will let you know!
Great curry aside, if there’s one thing you should know about Gandhi Mahal, it’s that it’s not all about the curry. It’s about you and everyone else eating healthy food, now and in the future, spice or no spice. That’s because Gandhi Mahal is not just a restaurant, but an incubator of ideas. It’s both a test lab and a prototype for a thriving local food system. Owner Ruhel Islam has visions far beyond the reach of his own four walls, and as a new member of the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, he has a new opportunity to take that vision to the city level.
If you stopped in and something seemed missing at the restaurant this fall, you weren’t mistaken. For almost two months, from late September to mid-November, Ruhel was on the other side of the globe skipping continents and visiting family and friends.
His first stops in Melbourne and Sydney took him all the way from crisp autumn leaves back to flowering trees. Several extended family members have settled here in Australia, including Ruhel’s aunt and uncle, who joined him to travel back to Bangladesh. Also in the area is our former floor manager, who welcomed Ruhel into her home to visit. A dedicated and energetic part of the Gandhi Mahal team since we first opened, she moved to Sydney last year to join her husband and is loving life in her new city.
Next stop: Bangladesh. For Ruhel journeys back home are often business-related, but this visit was for family – and what a homecoming it was! “We were all so happy to see each other,” he beams. “My cousin celebrated my birthday for me. We all had such a wonderful time.” One highlight was his time spent at Dusai Resort, a beautiful travel destination owned and operated by his cousin. “He did a great job with the place. It’s like another world! When you stay there, you don’t need to go anywhere else. You’ll never be bored. You are surrounded by nature, and they serve wonderful food. If my uncle [Saifur Rahman] were alive, I think he would be very proud.” He adds, “…and if anyone travels to Bangladesh, they should tell me! I will connect them with my cousin, and they might get a good deal at Dusai Resort!”
Reflecting on this particular trip back home, Ruhel can’t help but notice that the dynamic with family and friends is changing – and for the better! “It was so wonderful to come back and feel respected for my accomplishments,” he remarks. “As a child, I was used to being teased. People would bully me for having darker skin, and they thought I was strange the way I was always playing in the dirt. I believed I was leaving that all behind when I came to the United States as a young man. Here, I had the freedom to pursue my passion without people laughing at me. Yet, now I return home and people are congratulating me! They are proud of what I have done with the restaurant and in the community.”
As the longest-serving Minister of Finance of Bangladesh, past Chairman of the International Monetary Fund, a leader in the Bangladeshi National Party, and the founder of several educational and economic institutions, Ruhel’s uncle Saifur Rahman was a lifelong servant to his people. He was an architect of the Bangladeshi economy, an economy that held stable even during the Great Recession and that still remains a strong place for doing business. In 2005, he was awarded the Ekushey Padak, one of the highest civilian honors in Bangladesh. Today, September fifth, marks the sixth anniversary of Rahman’s death, and Ruhel would like to dedicate this day in his honor.
Asmat Ali, known around Gandhi Mahal as Baisab (“brother” in Bangla), has been our head chef since we opened our doors in 2008. Born in Sylhet, Bangladesh, he spent much of his life working in Qatar before coming to the United States in 2001.Continue reading →
Sunshine is in the forecast this weekend! How will you make the most of it? If nothing else, be sure to get out on Lake Street this Sunday for Open Streets Minneapolis on East Lake Street. We’ll be at the scene all day, serving up traditional Bangla-style curry from 11am to 5pm. Come listen to live music on the sitar and the tabla and meet some of our farmers and community partners, including Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, MN Community Solar, Spark-Y, and more! Poet and community organizer Louis Alemayehu will present a spoken word performance at 3:00. See you there!
Join us on Monday July 6th, 2015 in sharing and celebrating Iftar, the nightly breaking of the daily fast of Ramadan. We will be co-hosting with Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, an organization that works to bring spiritual congregations together in care of creation as active members of the climate movement. Gather at Gandhi Mahal at 8pm with friends of the Twin Cities interfaith community, where owner Ruhel Islam will recite the Azan, or “call for prayer,” and we will begin our meal at sunset.
What is the Meaning of Ramadan?
In the Muslim faith, Ramadan is a period of daily fasting, the name derived from the Arabic word for “scorching heat” or “dryness.” Observants are not to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, at which time the fast is broken in an act of celebration (Iftar), which is often shared by friends and family. Similar to the Christian observance of Lent, Ramadan is about much more than the outward practice of fasting. The month of its duration is considered a time of spiritual centering and recharging, and of great blessing and forgiveness.
A long-time voice in the climate movement who has dedicated years of work to local groups like MN350, Kate Jacobson joined Gandhi Mahal this spring as our Garden Coordinator. What does this kind of work look like? What new projects are cooking this year? We met her in the garden to find out!
Crunching on that crispy eggplant pakora from our lunch buffet, do you ever wonder what happens to all the extra oil once it leaves the fryer? For many restaurants, the question seems short on easy answers. Spent cooking oil can create a host of problems, clogging pipes, increasing the volume of trash, damaging sewers, and harming wildlife.
Part of our work here at Gandhi Mahal is turning our waste streams into energy cycles. In other words, we put that grease back in action! Walk through the service alley behind Gandhi Mahal, and you might see a collection of bright blue barrels huddled by the dumpster. These are recycling bins for used cooking oil, and are regularly serviced by Sanimax, a company that collects various industrial waste materials and converts them back into useable products. One of their largest operations is producing biodiesel from used cooking oil. By keeping our extra grease out of the landfill and instead sending it through a process of purification and chemical conversion, we are taking steps to close the loop on another waste stream and provide a new source for renewable energy.
Why did I want to start a restaurant? Well, I love cooking — at least, I love eating!
— Ruhel Islam, Owner, Gandhi Mahal
Like many other restaurants, the earliest seeds of Gandhi Mahal’s creation grew from a simple childlike curiosity toward the everyday culture of food. Young Ruhel loved watching his mother and grandmother cook. “I was so eager to learn. When I was old enough, they let me make my own omelets,” he recalls. These weren’t your typical greasy spoon fare, but creations cobbled together with the fruits of playful backyard foraging: eggs from the family chickens and various herbs and spices including cilantro and chili peppers. Anything he could find was fair game.
Without Cub Foods down the street, meals tended to take on a more creative and exploratory nature. What was in the family compound was what was for dinner, but that’s not to say life felt limited! “It’s a different way there from how we eat here in the United States,” says Ruhel. For a curious boy growing up in Rural Bangladesh, every day provided opportunities to explore in the kitchen. Instead of stirring plastic pasta on a make-believe stovetop, he had a host of real ingredients right at his fingertips, and playing farmer/chef-in-training was more fun than any bottle rocket or squirt gun. “I would catch fish by throwing rocks in the family pond, then take them home for my mother to fry.” His fondest hooky-related memory, of course, involved an eight-year-old Ruhel fast asleep in a banana coma, hidden in the rafters of the kitchen shelter. “Everything you needed, you had right there in your backyard — mangoes, bananas and coconuts from the trees, spices, herbs, vegetables…” Food was not a separate concern to remember on the weekly shopping list, but a central aspect of home life — and for kids like Ruhel, a rad way to play!
Coming to the United States in 1996 as a young man, Ruhel was confronted by a great deal of culture shock. He first entered the workforce in New York City as a busboy, a job that opened for him a mystifying window into the American food system. “I was so used to the Bangla way that this was all so strange to me,” he remembers. How did Americans get their food? What did food mean to them? These were the questions he continued to ponder as he worked toward gaining his United States Citizenship, a process that pushed him to consider the potential in sharing his own cultural wisdom. “In Bangla culture, we say, ‘Even if the whole world doesn’t have food, my village will still go on.'” But what about American “villages?” What do they have in their backyards?