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FEATURE


by family life: his father’s faith in Ayuverda, the homely cooking in his mother’s kitchen, the parathas served for breakfast in a local restaurant - sweet memories he still savours today. In 1988, a natural disaster changed his life. The devastating floods in Bangladesh that put 60 per cent of the country under water, prompted his parents to think about sending their 19-year-old son to a safer environment. A relative living in Sweden described it as a country where there was plenty of opportunity if one was prepared to work hard, which first planted the idea in Nahid’s mind. After studying in Oslo, Norway for a while, the young Nahid finally arrived at Linkoping station, Sweden in November 1989. At first he experienced something of a culture shock. He was unable to buy rice


In our own restaurant we could create something of our very own, something that has never existed in Sweden before.” In 1972 the first Indian restaurant opened in Gothenburg at the Iron Market, followed by a smattering of Indian restaurants in Stockholm throughout the 80s. When Hassan Patwany’s Indira opened in 1990, Nahid found employment there as a waiter in the evenings and at weekends, also working at other establishments in an effort to save enough money to open his own restaurant. For several years, he says, he barely had time to sit down to eat a meal. The arrival of his brother Naim in Sweden in the mid-90s meant he was able to loan some money which, combined with his own savings and those of his friends, enabled him to open Shanti in November 2000.


or spice, the empty streets and silence were, at first, unnerving compared to the hustle and bustle of home. He soon acclimatised however, and after two semesters at Linkoping global gymnasium, moved to Stockholm to pursue a career in design. To earn extra money, he did a regular shift at a local diner, sharing an apartment in the suburb of Fittja with three other guys from Bangladesh. They took it in turns to cook, using paprika as the only spice that was readily available, to liven up the food. “My speciality was canned mackerel masala which consisted of canned mackerel fried with onion, garlic, chilli and coriander,” remembers Nahid. All three agreed that the food they cooked in the apartment was better than that cooked in the few Indian restaurants there were at that time in Stockholm. As he and his companions discussed starting their own restaurant, the idea of becoming a designer paled. “I was interested in all kinds of culture, all creation,” Nahid said. “I was also a musician, but what would I make of it? Play in the Bengali Association for the rest of my life? I thought: food is also an art form.


“Shanti means peace in Bengal,” explains Nahid. “It was the time of the Iraq war which was why I chose that name.” An increased interest in Indian food helped business at first but for six months the restaurant remained more or less empty. “When we opened we struggled,” said Nahid. “We were shutting at lunch; we couldn’t even pay the gas bill.” That changed when the restaurant received a high rating in a popular DN newspaper winning Golden Dragon award. “The next day, shortly after I arrived at work, the calls began. The following day the restaurant was full of people.” After another quiet period caused by staffing issues, a second, even more favourable review of Shanti brought the diners flocking in. The more customers the restaurant had, the more Nahid wanted to serve authentic food. “I have to find things to have fun,” he explains. “Even today, 70 per cent of our lunch orders are for Chicken Tikka – it’s boring just serving the same all the time so I started to fix up small dishes which were not on the menu.”. In 2008, Nahid opened his second restaurant, Shanti Soft Corner with his brother as partner. But it wasn’t until he


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opened a third restaurant, Touch of Bengal, that the brothers were able to fulfil their dream of becoming the first restaurant in Europe outside of Britain to focus on Bengali food. “It was a different concept,” explained Nahid. “All the time I was working in restaurants I wondered why the staff cooked one curry for themselves and served another to customers. I thought why not try serving this similar type of curry to the customer? So, at Touch of Bengal we serve fish sauce, or chicken on the bone. People were not used to it and complained at first but we were adamant because we explained to them, this is the more authentic curry. Of course the fish dishes we serve here have to be done with salmon as customers love it. Kedgeree rice with lentils also goes down very well.” Shortly afterwards, Nahid had the idea to open a restaurant focusing on Indian street food. Despite the misgivings of his brother, Gossip was opened in March 2014 in a cultural area of Stockholm, and has been packed ever since. Customers, who are often young Bangladeshis who have never been to their mother country, are often found queuing at the door. “I wanted to create the theme of a roadside café in Bangladesh so I used newspaper to decorate the walls. I don’t have too many dishes on my menu and the street food is very limited, so the customer is not confused. In my other restaurants there are traditional dishes like those served in the UK such as curry or Rogan Josh, but my main love is Bengali food.” “I like to experiment and I still travel a lot visiting different places to discover the latest food trends. Whenever I go to Dhaka I always go to old Dhaka where the food is amazing - beef Bhuna Bangladeshi- style with kedgeree, rice and dhal cooked together, or Biryani, for which the city is famous, can’t be beaten. I tried to implement those dishes in my menu from my memory and when I go to Dhaka I talk to ordinary restaurant chefs and get ideas from them.” Not content with promoting Bengali food, Nahid also wants to promote the culture. “Bengali people are very cultured and we have a very rich life in Bangladesh,” he explains. “I want people to know about our strong heritage in literature. In the restaurant I have a big picture of the great poets, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. Tagore came to Sweden over 100 years ago to pick up the Nobel prize for literature and I thought of the link between two great countries, Sweden and Bangladesh. “Both countries are rich in culture and rich in food.”


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