Moscow welcomes Bangladeshi, Indian family restaurant

New restaurant owners make food to comfort, use local ingredients



Shaheen Khan, Mela Bangladesh restaurant owner, talks about how she uses local food from the Moscow/Pullman area to bring people to her restaurant.

CHLOE GRUNDMEIER, Evergreen reporter

The owners of the new Bangladeshi restaurant Mela in Moscow, married couple Shaheen and Enam Khan, want to use the bountiful legumes and lentils available locally to their advantage while also filling the void for culturally-diverse food.

The couple originally moved to the Palouse so Enam could complete his doctorate at WSU. Shaheen didn’t get her work permit until after she’d raised their kids but found difficulty in the job search.

“When I started searching for a job, I was heartbroken because with my Bangladeshi university degree I could not find anything here,” she said. “My kids are a very big fan of my food and they always told me to sell my food. Now I started my own business and I can employ other people and I can contribute to society.”

Shaheen started selling her food at the Moscow Farmers Market and said she had customers almost immediately ask when a restaurant was coming. It took nearly four years for Mela to become a reality this August.

The restaurant is located near Beer Park in a compound with several other restaurants, including The Hoof & Trotter and Slice and Biscuit. Shaheen said she’d imagined her restaurant in a park-like area for children to play and parents to relax while enjoying good food.

She said it was very important to her that people of all ages are able to enjoy her food. Enam added that some Indian and Bangladeshi recipes overuse spices and make their dishes too spicy for many people to enjoy.

“There is a huge obstacle to cross, some people have this kind of flavorful food, but it is totally hot,” he said. “We wanted our food to be flavorful and yummy and comfortable rather than hot.”

There is something to be said for diverse food adored by young children. Mela found some of its most loyal customers in Emerson and Eloise Snyder, ages 11 and 7 respectively.

“I like the combination of the spices,” Emerson said. “It’s the good level of spicy. It’s not too spicy and it’s very flavorful.”

The Snyder family eats at Mela about two times a week, according to Emerson and Eloise’s mother Amanda. Eloise said she likes some spicy food and she doesn’t think Mela’s vegetable curry is too spicy. In Eloise’s words, “It’s all really good.”

“We have a lot of customers [the Snyders’] age and even smaller,” Shaheen said. “When they come to the booth they can’t wait to have the food, they grab the plate from our hands. That makes me so happy, that it’s not their cultural food and they didn’t grow up with it, but they love it and that makes me keep going.”

Shaheen makes everything at the restaurant from scratch, including a ginger-garlic paste used in several dishes. As many of the ingredients as possible are locally-sourced and all Mela recipes are free of preservatives, artificial color, soy and MSG.

“Our food is totally authentic and we know exactly what we are serving,” Enam said.

Shaheen and Enam raised their sons in America after they emigrated from Bangladesh. They said they are both proud of their Bangladeshi history and want their sons to share that pride.

“I’ve met many people who don’t even know there’s a country that exists called Bangladesh,” Shaheen said. “I’m very proud to be Bangladeshi and I want to teach my boys my culture with my food. I want people to know me, my food and my country through my restaurant.”

Shaheen believes food is a great way to teach people about different cultures and that’s one of the reasons she thinks students in the area should try her food.

“It’s a diverse world,” she said. “Food is something you can relate with other cultures and other people. If you like it, automatically you are interested in getting to know where the food is from and how they make it and about their lifestyle. That’s why food is important, it makes everybody happy and connects people.”