Karim Rezaul was born in Bangladesh, and after a stint in the UK in the mid-nineties decided to take a chance on Sweden – even though the Indian food scene wasn’t so strong back then.
“I came here in 1995 after I met a woman who lived here,” he tells The Local on the site of his fourth and newest Indian Garden restaurant in Liljeholmen.
While the Swedes still hadn’t developed tastebuds for good Indian food, Rezaul busied himself with getting married and experimenting with the right spice mixes while working at a number of restaurants around the city.
IN PICTURES: Take a close up look at some of Chef Rezaul’s dishes
“I worked in many places, always making my own spice mixes; I played around all the time. When I found which ones worked, the ones people really, really liked, then I wrote them all down,” he says.
Eventually, after being employed at the Indian Garden on Stockholm’s Södermalm for six years, Rezaul purchased the restaurant in 2002 and unleashed his secret recipes on diners who quickly lapped them up.
“I changed the whole concept,” he says. “And my wife was a great waitress. Together, it worked.”
And it worked indeed. Word of mouth spread, and before long, Rezaul opened another restaurant, and then another. Now, in September 2013, he’s opened his fourth – Indian Garden Liljeholmen.
“This area is really nice, one of my favourite places in Stockholm. The water’s right there, the city’s close. A lot of people in this area asked for a good Indian restaurant in Liljeholm so we took the chance,” he explains.
The restaurant, a two-story locale with enormously high ceilings and views over the harbour, is located on the Sjövikstorget square just a few minutes walk from the Liljeholmen metro.
For Rezaul, cooking has been a lifelong dream that was born after he cooked with his mother as a child. In fact, one of the dishes on the new menu – the Lamb Roshnai – is dedicated to the memory of his grandfather, who also cooked the same dish. “When I miss him, I’ve always cooked it,” Rezaul says wistfully.
The secret to his culinary success?
“You’ve gotta have the right mix of spices. Swedes don’t like things that are too strong, not as much as we do in Bangladesh for example. And good presentation is important too, of course.”
While Rezaul claims to be no guru on giving advice to those wanting to move to Sweden, he admits that the language is one of the keys to success.
“Swedish is really important to learn, absolutely. I couldn’t go to school so much with my restaurant commitments, and just learnt by speaking with people I met, quite simply. And outside of the restaurant branch, my best advice to people is that Sweden is a great country to study, you can really take a chance on that,” he says.
“My only complaint about Sweden is the cold, but I love it here in the summer,” he adds.
“But I’m very motivated by the possibilities of the future. Swedes didn’t like Indian food so much ten years ago, now they love it,” he says, acknowledging that his restaurants have had a large part in making Indian cuisine a staple among Swedish restaurant goers.
As for now, Rezaul isn’t planning to open any more restaurants. Instead, he’ll focus on the new Liljeholmen location and his other three.
So lastly, what does the Bangladeshi expert on Indian food think about Swedish cuisine? Do Swedes have good food taste?
“Yes, overall, they absolutely do. When it comes to Swedish food, some dishes are quite good indeed. If I had to pick a favourite, it’d have to be the Wallenbergare,” he says with a laugh.