Chef's Table - Hospitality, Bangladeshi-style
Panahar, Atlanta's only Bangladeshi restaurant, opened three years ago when partners Mirza Ameen, Mostafa Mahamud and chef Mohammed Alam met and decided to renovate a Vietnamese restaurant. Ameen has a long career in hospitality, including stints at the Abbey, the Renaissance Waverly Hotel and the Georgia World Congress Center; Mahamud brings customer service experience from working in gas stations and driving a shuttle bus; and Alam used to cook at Touch of India.
Creative Loafing: How many Bangladeshis live in Atlanta?
Ameen: About 10,000 people, more than in many cities the same size as Atlanta. There are Bangladeshi owners who use the term "Indian" in their [restaurant] signboard or website; they don't have the fortitude.
What are the differences in Indian and Bangladeshi food?
Geographically we are very close, so there are many similarities and some distinctions. Our cuisine is significantly lighter — less oily, less spicy, not as overpowering. What is important to us is the taste and balance of food. We definitely believe less is more.
The vegetables here are amazing.
Two-thirds of our sales are still meat, which says more about American eating habits. In Bangladesh, people eat more vegetables. We use a lot of spices like cumin, ginger, mint, cinnamon and black mustard seed for flavor.
I notice there is no wine or beer on your menu. Is that for religious reasons?
No, it's purely financial. A liquor license is expensive. But if you bring in wine or beer, we will open it, pour it, chill or store it. We don't charge a corkage fee.
I watched as you charmed a table of beefy, baseball-wearing men.
That demographic may be more apprehensive about trying something new. Maybe they are not as liberal or well educated or well traveled or they haven't had the exposure to ethnic food. We focus on that niche. Because they may tell six more people in their community, expanding our business. It's not enough to remember the food. Our objective is to make a lasting impression so they want to return.
Do you alter your recipes for American palates?
We don't have to. The way we cook is the way a Bangladeshi family cooks at home. We keep the food as simple and authentic as possible. And, in general, Bangladeshi cuisine is not very hot. "Panahar" means an invitation to enjoy a meal at someone's home. We want you to feel like you are in someone's home. We never call any customer — even internally — anything but a guest.
Panahar, 3375 Buford Highway. 404-633-6655.