Photo credit to Passage to India.
Borhan Ahmed didn’t plan to open a restaurant when he immigrated from Bangladesh in 1987. He came to study engineering. But he missed the flavors of India and decided to embrace his passion for food and cooking. He set out to make authentic dishes, just like his mama and grannie. He’s now been in business in Southwest Florida for 22 years.
It’s a family affair – with Borhan running the kitchen, his wife as hostess and all four of his children serving tables or pitching in behind the scenes. “I am head chef, side chef, sous chef, everything,” Borhan says. It’s been that way since the beginning. Four or five hours before the restaurant opens for dinner, Borhan is hard at work making dough for Nan, a traditional Indian bread cooked in an extremely hot clay oven called a Tandoori.
The pita-like Nan can be enjoyed fresh from the oven or filled with a variety of ingredients to make it sweet or savory. Keema Nan is filled with ground lamb while Sweet Nan is filled with raisins, nuts and coconut.
Spices used in Indian cuisine include turmeric, cumin and paprika, which give most dishes a brilliant red color. Like all good chefs, Borhan has his own curry recipe, along with four or five other sauces. He uses traditional Indian spices, but his dishes have a Bengali fl are, since spices are incorporated a bit differently in Bangladesh, making the texture and flavor unique from traditional Indian cuisine. Borhan generally makes his dishes mild, but will pour on the heat as requested. The hottest sauce is Vindaloo, made with Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers, famous for their fiery intensity.
Elephants and peacock feathers adorn the dining room at Passage to India, with imported sequence tablecloths glistening under the chandeliers. We started our Central Asian dining adventure with a traditional mango lassi (similar to a mango milkshake) and some Indian beer, setting the stage for an uncommon culinary experience. Passage to India offers unique and flavorful food, which transports diners across the globe for a break from the ordinary.
01. APPETIZERS/ SAMOSA & PAKURA
We started with the Mixed Appetizer, offering a sampling of Bengali starters. The Samosa is a crisp, fried pastry turnover filled with potatoes and peas. Pakura can be either meat (we tried chicken) or vegetables mixed with Indian spices and deep-fried. Rounding out the appetizer was Onion Bhaji, similar to the Pakura but starring thick slices of onion. All appetizers are served with three sauces: a hot and spicy green mint sauce, sweet and earthy tamarind sauce and a fresh onion chutney.
02. CHICKEN TANDOORI
Tandoori specialties are cooked in the traditional clay oven and served with fresh Nan bread and Raitha, a homemade yogurt sauce seasoned with finely diced cucumber. The Chicken Tandoori is “Indian barbecue,” with chicken marinated overnight in yogurt and Indian spices. It comes out sizzling, with a steamy, tantalizing aroma inviting you to dive into this flavorful meal.
03. SHRIMP TIKKA MASALA
Cumin and paprika give this dish eye-popping appeal. Tikka Masala features any kind of boneless meat – shrimp, chicken, lamb or fish – grilled in the tandoori oven and cooked in a rich, yogurt-based tandoori sauce. Use the basmati rice to soak up all that super sauce.
Biryani specialties are prepared with mild yet flavorful spices like ginger, garlic, coriander and cumin, mixed in a sauce with almonds, raisins and coconut. It all coats the basmati rice for a festive appearance. In Bangladesh, this is a party dish, traditionally reserved for celebrating special occasions. Try Biryani with vegetables, chicken, lamb, shrimp or chicken – or a combination of meats and vegetables.
05. GROUPER CURRY
No Indian culinary experience is complete without curry. We tried grouper in Chef Borhan’s signature curry sauce, a perfect complement to the fresh catch. The flavorful dish is served with Pillau Basmati Rice for enjoying the ample curry sauce. Other seafood dishes include Shrimp Dansak, with lentils, and Shrimp Korma, cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce. Also try the curry with salmon, sea bass or snapper.
06. DESSERT/ RICE PUDDING & GULAB JAMUN
Creamy rice pudding is a sweet way to end a meal at Passage to India. This traditional Indian dessert is mild and melts in your mouth. Borhan also makes his own mango and coconut ice cream, as well as India’s version of doughnuts: Gulab Jamun. This honey ball is heavy with gooey goodness and served in extra honey sauce for ending on a sweet note.