Its driving force was Ruhel Islam, who is on a quest to serve the diners of Gandhi Mahal the freshest farm-to-table Indian fare possible. As of now, he harvests as much as 10,000 pounds of food annually within a two-mile radius of the restaurant. The results of his efforts are evident in the shahi king korma, a velvety sweet and savory chicken curry laced with saffron, and tandoori butterfish.
For the past few years the Indian restaurant Gandhi Mahal has worked with different partners on incorporating sustainability into its operations, from compostable and reusable containers to an aquaponics fish farm in the basement. One of those partners has been the Lake Street Council, which in turn receives money and technical assistance from the Clean Energy Resource Teams.
Upstairs at Minneapolis restaurant Gandhi Mahal, late diners help themselves to the last call for the luncheon buffet of traditional Indian fare. Downstairs, the ingredients for future meals are swimming around in a tank or growing in beds of lava rocks and water. Ruhel Islam has set up what he believes is the first restaurant in the U.S. to grow its food in a basement aquaponic garden.
A lush jungle of sorts has sprung up in a basement off Lake Street in Minneapolis, where tilapia are now swimming amid Minnesota’s first aquaponics system based in a restaurant. In a humid room beneath Gandhi Mahal restaurant, local officials watched Thursday as owner Ruhel Islam plunged his arm into a tank and threw a wriggling tilapia into a bucket of ice water.
Gandhi Mahal, a Minneapolis Indian restaurant, will host three of the six conversations scheduled for this summer and demonstrate sustainability firsthand. In the small basement of the restaurant sits an aquaponic farm housing about 100 tilapia, whose waste helps fertilize the surrounding beds of tomatoes, spinach and grains.
I hadn’t been inside Gandhi Mahal since it first opened in 2008 and I forgot that there is a lot more dining space than I had remembered. It’s beautiful and cozy, but what hits you first is that smell: Warm spices make a heady perfume.
Sometimes you meet people who are so virtuous and well-meaning that you just want to smack them upside the head. No, you don’t! What am I saying! It’s more like, you want to smack yourself when you’re reminded of the virtuous things people are doing while you’re sitting on your fat ass watching X-Files reruns.
A bowl of creamy, rich lamb curry or a lush chicken tikka masala with a side of crispy samosas are one hell of a way to keep your soul feeling satisfied during the cold months, and fortunately for us, we don’t have to leave your house or dirty a dish to get them.
Ruhel Islam knows food insecurity well. Growing up in Bangladesh, Islam didn’t always have access to food, let alone healthy food, an outlook that shaped his very business model. "If we all do our part, the world will be a better place," he said.
A collaborative of Minneapolis faith-based, cultural and health organizations will soon start a second year of serious urban farming in an effort to change how Native Americans live and eat and take their neighbors along on the same healthy journey.
Be the change. Start small. Lead by example. Lake Street restaurant owner Ruhel Islam believes this is how you build community. After a 2010 trip with HECUA (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs) to his home country of Bangladesh, Islam, the owner of Ghandi Mahal restaurant, came back inspired.