TRAVERSE CITY — The Rabbani family left Bangladesh for Michigan in 2015. Golam Rabbani, who worked as a human rights lawyer, said they enjoyed a similar culture and language as India.
He wanted to share the food with the northern Michigan community, so he and his wife Jina invited people over to their house for meals. Many asked to take food home, Rabbani said.
He recently expanded the business, opening the restaurant Taste of India at Grand Traverse Mall. He works alongside Executive Chef Brent Temple.
The menu, Rabbani said, is divided into two main categories: vegetarian and meat.
People can choose from butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, chicken tandoori or chicken biriyani — a mixture of protein, vegetables and rice. This item is also available without meat.
Vegetarian-friendly dishes include aloo gobi (cauliflower, potato and mixed curry), chana masala (chickpea curry) and daal (lentils).
“Everything is a curry item,” Rabbani said. “Our most popular item is coming soon. It’s a lamb curry.”
The issue Rabbani aims to minimize is the common misconception that the food is too hot. He said people often are too scared to try it.
“Our food is spicy, but not hot,” he said. “We use spices for flavor. Everything is Indian authentic.”
They cook with 30 or 40 ingredients, including ginger, tomato paste, garlic, peppers, cardamom and others.
The restaurant plans to add more dishes in the future. First, Rabbani said, they will see how the current menu is received. Customers’ reactions have been positive so far. The restaurant’s Facebook page received many comments and likes in the months leading up to the soft opening in early December.
“Customers are very much interested in Indian food,” Rabbani said. “We thought it was our responsibility to fulfill the demand.”
Though there is not a ton of display space, Rabbani said the mall is the perfect place to start because of the foot traffic. Plus, it is more approachable than a fine dining establishment.
“We’re trying our best,” he said. “Our main target is to introduce our food and serve our customers while maintaining quality.”
Karen Puschel Segal, former co-chair of the International Affairs Forum at NMC, said she met Golam in 2017 at a local meeting about refugees and immigrants. She said he and his wife Tanjina work hard to create a life in northern Michigan.
“Their priority has to be to build a sustainable future for their children,” Puschel Segal said. “Thus, beginning small businesses — often in the food industry — is an entry when other avenues close.”
However, their work is not solely for their family.
“It’s this community that benefits from having them relocate here,” she said. “Refugees and new immigrants are an important part of Michigan’s economic engine.”
Puschel Segal added that everyone should try the restaurant to “experience a taste of the world.”
“If any family can make this work, it’s Golam and Jina,” she said. “I can’t wait to see where they are 10 years from now because they bring so much optimism, intelligence and energy to everything they touch.”
Taste of India is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily in the food court at Grand Traverse Mall. Combos are $12 and include an entrée, side salad and naan bread. Mango lassi — a beverage made with yogurt, fresh mangoes and cardamom — is also available.
The restaurant offers free curry tastings Jan. 12 for International Curry Day.