IACCGH Business Hour Open Forum

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By Somdatta Basu

Shammi and Mithu Malik’s Journey with Musaafer

Feb.17, Houston. TX: Houston, renowned for its expansive Medical Center, is also home to a vibrant culinary scene, with establishments like Musaafer Restaurant showcasing the city’s gastronomic diversity. At the IACCGH Business Hour on Open Forum, Shammi and Mithu Malik, the dynamic duo behind Musaafer, shared insights into their remarkable journey from Nigeria to the heart of Houston’s dining landscape. The Maliks’ narrative is one of passion and perseverance, beginning with the inception of their first restaurant, Spice Bar, in Lagos, Nigeria, back in 2004. “Our journey started in Lagos, where we opened Spice Bar,” Shammi reminisced. “It quickly became popular for its authentic Northwestern Frontier cuisine.” Their success in Lagos led to the establishment of Spice Route, a fine dining restaurant known for its culinary excellence. However, it was their time in Dubai that inspired their next venture. “Dubai was where we got the idea for Musaafer,” Mithu explained. “We wanted to create a restaurant that captured the essence of Indian fine dining.” Musaafer, meaning “traveler” in Hindi, reflects the Maliks’ passion for Indian cuisine and culture. “Every dish at Musaafer tells a story,” Shammi shared. Transitioning from Dubai to Houston presented its challenges, but the Maliks were drawn to the city’s vibrant food scene. “Houston felt like the perfect fit for Musaafer,” Mithu affirmed. “It’s diverse and welcoming, making it an ideal place to showcase our culinary vision.” Since its opening in Houston’s Galleria area, Musaafer has garnered acclaim for its elaborate design and exquisite cuisine. “We wanted Musaafer to be more than just a restaurant,” Shammi explained. “It’s an immersive cultural experience that transports guests to the heart of India.” Their commitment to authenticity extends to every aspect of Musaafer, from the sourcing of spices to the training of staff. “Authenticity is key,” Mithu emphasized. “We want our guests to feel like they’ve traveled through India with each bite.” The Business Hour talk-show on Open Forum, delved into the origins of Musaafer, a labor of love that emerged from Shammi and Mithu’s extensive experience in the food industry, including ventures in fine dining, pizza franchises, and coffee shops.

One of the highlights of the discussion was the meticulous process of curating Musaafer’s menu, which draws inspiration from all 29 states of India. Shammi and Mithu emphasized their dedication to authenticity, ensuring that each dish reflects the unique flavors, traditions, and ingredients of its region. Their culinary odyssey took two chefs on a 100-day journey across India, where they immersed themselves in local cuisines, uncovered hidden gems, and forged connections with chefs passionate about preserving traditional recipes. From the aromatic spices of Kerala to the fiery curries of Punjab, every dish at Musaafer tells a story of India’s diverse culinary heritage.

“’I received a call from Shammi and Mithu a few years back,” shared Jagdip Ahluwalia, Executive Director of IACCGH, during his conversation over phone with the Maliks on the Business Hour. “They informed me of their move to Houston and their plans to launch a one-of-a-kind restaurant. What truly astounded me was learning that every element in Musaafer was crafted in India and transported here. Dining at Musaafer,” he added, “is akin to strolling through a Museum of Indian arts and crafts—a truly unique and enriching experience.”

Within this timeframe, Musaafer has already made its mark, earning recognition from Time Magazine as one of the top restaurants in the USA. As they continue to write the next chapter in their culinary journey, Shammi and Mithu Malik are grateful for the support of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH), the Houston community and excited for what the future holds. As the conversation came to a close, listeners were left with a tantalizing taste of what awaits them at Musaafer – a culinary journey through the diverse landscapes of India, served with a generous helping of warmth, hospitality, and passion. The next destination of the Maliks is opening another restaurant in New York soon.