A point of pride for chef Maryam Ghaznavi and husband Raheel Gauba, co-owners and married couple behind new Pakistani restaurant Malika, is when members of the Indian and South Asian community come in and compliment the authenticity of the food.
“When our own community is coming back and enjoying it, that tells us we are bringing a sense of authenticity,” Gauba said. “You can taste that there is an Indian twist, but Pakistani food has its own identity.”
After a year serving food at The Workshop downtown under the name Ma’am Saab, the couple has brought their bold cuisine to a brick-and-mortar Mount Pleasant with the opening of Malika Pakistani Chi Canteen at 1333 Theatre Drive in Town Centre in late August.
The concept is casual and approachable street food for lunch and dinner with small and large plates, and teas in a bright and colorful environment. The restaurant moved to Mount Pleasant after the owners started a Ma’am Saab delivery service when the pandemic forced restaurants to close. They found the majority of the orders were for Mount Pleasant, and began looking for an East Cooper.
“The opportunity fell into our lap this year when Mount Pleasant Towne Centre reached out to us personally to see if we wanted to locate there,” Ghaznavi said.
A number of meat and vegetarian street snacks are on the menu. Popular “street mains” include the chicken Biryani: chicken thighs braised in aromatic spices layered with Basmati rice served with onion, cucumber salad and raita. The beef shami bun is made with beef, lentils and Kashmir chili patties fried in egg wash on a brioche bun.
Gauba and Ghaznavi were both born in Pakistan, and both families relocated to Canada, where they met.
“I come from a household where my mom and grandmother and sister we all cooked Pakistani cuisine, and I was my family’s chief taste tester,” Ghaznavi said. “I love the rich spices, and I was always the one at the end of meal who scraped the rice from the pot.”
The couple moved to the United States, eventually to Mount Pleasant, when Gauba got a job at Blackbaud. Starting a restaurant was not on the radar for Ghaznavi until an opportunity arose in 2019 for a pop-up at The Daily restaurant downtown. The couple knew owner, Michael Shemtov, and had hosted him for dinner several times.
“He knew how passionate I was,” Ghaznavi said. The couple did some branding and marketing for the pop-up and on the day of service, “there was a line a quarter mile long,” Ghaznavi said.
In addition to Malika Pakistani Chi Canteen, a flagship restaurant slated for the end of 2021 at the former home of Jestine’s Kitchen on Meeting Street downtown will bring a more elevated concept and will explore the cuisine of each region of Pakistan along with an extensive cocktail and mocktail program.
I’m getting messages every day from our community thanking us for bringing this, and being a positive representation of our community,” Ghaznavi said. “The flavors are authentic, and everyone did a phenomenal job with the space. It makes us humble and grateful that we are doing justice to where we come from.”