Ghaznavi's dishes reflect her Punjabi culture and use a variety of spices
CM: How did you go from Montessori school teacher to restaurateur in a matter of months?
MG: We moved here in 2006, and cooking was my way of staying connected with my culture and family. The itch [to open a restaurant] was always there. The fire kept going every time we hosted gatherings at the house. I would cook for 20 to 30 people at a time. Melanie and Michael Shemtov [of Butcher & Bee] became good friends of ours and knew I had this secret passion. Michael invited us to do a pop-up at The Daily, and my jaw dropped. I didn’t know what that even meant. We said yes, and literally two weeks later had branding and a menu. My sisters flew in from Canada to help. There were people waiting an hour and half to get in. We had three or four more pop-ups at The Daily, and all sold out within two hours.
CM: Tell us about the first iteration of Ma’am Saab?
MG: When the pandemic hit, we were three days into school closing and thought, “What if we did a delivery model?” Raheel put up a website overnight. We had a new menu every single day. You had to order by midnight for the following day. We had so much demand that we asked Michael for a kitchen, and he offered us a spot at Workshop.
CM: Since then you’ve opened Malika Pakistani Chai Canteen in Mount Pleasant Towne Centre. What’s the inspiration behind the concept?
MG: Street food is a huge part of daily life in Pakistan. You stop and grab something from a street vendor. It’s like coffee to us. It’s such a big part of growing up there, along with tea. Everything we grew up doing and eating is my approach.
CM: Ma’am Saab is aiming to reopen in the former Jestine’s next month. Can you give us a sneak peek at the menu?
MG: We’ll offer traditional festive favorites like Bihari kebabs, fried fish, a range of dum biryanis, as well as seasonal karahis and curries. Our hope is to offer a space that combines the vibrancy and spirit of Pakistani cuisines and culture. It will be homey, comfortable yet glamorous. It’s only fair that we bring it wholeheartedly, and also do justice to the building we’ll be in.
CM: How would you characterize the food of Pakistan?
MG: One of the questions we get asked on a daily basis is how Pakistani food is different from Indian food. Both countries have a vast variety of cuisines, languages, and cultures.
I come from a part of Pakistan called Punjab. In Punjabi cuisine, ingredients really shine.
I cook in a way that heat does not take over. We work with four or five spices, adding them to eggplant, cauliflower, or beef, for example, but each dish has other dimensions.
CM: How are you dealing with the shortage of F&B workers?
MG: Our number-one challenge is staffing. We’re hiring constantly, and 90 percent of people don’t show up. We run our business very differently because we don’t come from F&B. We think outside the box by hiring personalities, not skills. The attitude is what you buy into. Everybody who is working with me right now is a star. They literally work like family.
Malika Pakistani Chai Canteen:
Mount Pleasant Towne Centre
Coming soon to 251 Meeting St.